Peres - GPO
President Shimon Peres. Photo by GPO
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Iran's "evil" leaders cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, President Shimon Peres said on Tuesday, calling the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions the world's single most important issue.

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Peres' comments came at the opening of the Herzliya Conference, which was attended by World Bank President Robert Zoellick, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, and former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.

Referring to Iran's contentious nuclear program, the president called the issue "ours and the world's central problem at this time, accusing Iran of attempting to achieve regional and "even global hegemony."

"Nuclear weapons mustn't be allowed to fall into the hands of Iran's Ayatollah regime," Peres said, calling Iran's religious leadership the "most morally corrupt regime in the world."

Hinting at the possibility of a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, the president reiterated the Israeli stance, according to which "no option should be ruled out in our dealing with the Iranian danger. This is an existential threat."

"It is the duty of the international community to prevent evil and nuclear [weapons] from coming together. That is the obligations of most of the leaders of the free world, one which they must meet," Peres said.

On what he called "the moral significance of this battle," the president spoke of an Iranian regime which "executes people for their views. It funds, trains, and guides terrorists to spread terror and murder across the globe."

"This is a way of operation that must be condemned by everyone everywhere," Peres said, adding that, "eventually, the current Iranian leadership offers the future only destruction. It threatens human rights and the peace of nations."

In his address to the Herzliya Conference, president Peres also spoke of the necessity to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians, saying that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the only way to ensure Israel isn't made into the scapegoat of a rapidly changing Middle East.

If peace is not advanced, the president said, religious extremism could gain control of the region, "an extremism which Iran attempts to lead using its two proxies: Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, as well as other extensions throughout the region."

"The terror organizations are trying to drag Israel into an Arab internal struggle so they can direct the masses' rage against us. They have no rehabilitation plans, only incitement habits," Peres added.

The only way to prevent this takeover of extremism, then, is "to put an end to the conflict between us and the Palestinians, similarly to the agreements with Egypt and Jordan."

"When I say we must, I say so because I believe ending the conflict is possible. I've known the people heading the Palestinian Authority for decades," Peres said, adding that he believed "[Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas and [Palestinian] Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are worthy partners who do not wish to see the conflict go further."

Speaking of the reasons for the recent inability to restart peace talks, the president said that the two issues mainly holding up negotiations were "borders and security."

"The borders must be set as to determine the security arrangements, and must be set soon. This kind of negotiations must take place outside the box, and away from the headlines. Through it both sides will achieve something which cannot be achieved without talks – an end to the conflict," Peres added.

The president's comments came after, on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that peace prospects with the Palestinians were looking poor.

"As things stand now, according to what happened over the past few days - when the Palestinians refused even to discuss Israel's security needs with us - the signs are not particularly good," he told his cabinet in public remarks.

Netanyahu's remarks came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Ramallah on Saturday that Israel was to blame for the failure of the recent round of talks to relaunch direct talks.

Abbas claimed that during talks mediated by Jordan in recent weeks, Israel had presented an unclear position on security matters and on the question of borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state. Palestinian sources said Israel's border proposal would have prevented the establishment a Palestinian state.

Palestinian officials said last week an Israeli negotiator's verbal presentation on Wednesday of ideas for borders and security arrangements of a future Palestinian state was a non-starter, envisaging a fenced-off territory of cantons that would preserve most Jewish settlements.

Netanyahu said he still hoped the Palestinians would "come to their senses and continue the talks so that we can move on to real negotiations."

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held five rounds of exploratory talks in Jordan, part of a push by international mediators to revive negotiations suspended in 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.