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WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a joint meeting of the United States Houses of Congress yesterday that a "nuclear armed Iran is an intolerable threat to the peace and security of the world," which "cannot be permitted to materialize."

Olmert, who drew long applause and a standing ovation, called for immediate international action to curb Iran's nuclear program, which poses a threat to Israel's existence, urged Congress to support his alignment plan and vowed Israel would not give in to terror.

He said, "For us, this is an existential threat. A threat to which we cannot consent. But it is not Israel's threat alone. It is a threat to all those committed to stability in the Middle East and the well-being of the world at large.

"A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die: the mass destruction of innocent human life. This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail."

He continued, "If we do not take Iran's bellicose rhetoric seriously now, we will be forced to take its nuclear aggression seriously later."

Olmert opened with a description of joint American-Israeli values.

"Our two great nations share a profound belief in the importance of freedom and a common pioneering spirit deeply rooted in optimism," he said.

He spoke of his parents' journey, fleeing the persecutions in the Ukraine and Russia to sanctuary in Harbin, China, on their way to Israel "to fulfill their dream of building a Jewish and democratic state living in peace in the land of our ancestors."

Olmert devoted the main part of his 40-minute speech to Israel's relations with the Palestinians. He paid tribute to young victims of Palestinian terrorism, including American teenager Daniel Wultz, who died of injuries sustained in the April suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Daniel's parents sat in the House chamber, sobbing, as Olmert mentioned their son.

On prospects for Middle East peace, the prime minister said that the internationally-brokered road map initiative "remains the right plan," but warned that Israel would be prepared to "seek other alternatives" if it found no partner for peace in the Palestinians.

"We cannot wait for the Palestinians forever," Olmert said a day after talks with U.S. President George W. Bush that a senior Israeli official said "met all our expectations.

"Our deepest wish is to build a better future for our region, hand in hand with a Palestinian partner, but if not, we will move forward, but not alone," said Olmert, alluding to promised U.S. support.

"With a genuine Palestinian partner for peace, I believe we can reach an agreement on all the issues that divide us," Olmert said. If the Palestinians "ignore our outstretched hand for peace," he went on, "Israel will seek other alternatives to promote our future and the prospects of hope in the Middle East. At that juncture, the time for realignment will occur. "Realignment would significantly reduce the friction between Israelis and Palestinians and prevent much of the conflict between our two battered nations."

The prime minister told Congress that Israel had learned it must give up some of its aspirations in the interest of a secure future for a Jewish democratic state. "We have to relinquish some of our dreams to leave room for the dreams of others, so that all of us can enjoy a better future," he said.

He also paid tribute to his predecessor and founder of the Kadima party, Ariel Sharon, whom he replaced after Sharon suffered a massive stroke in January.

Sharon was a "legendary statesman and visionary," Olmert said. "I am emboldened by the promise of continuing his mission."

Israel is grateful for American support and would not let the United States down, Olmert said at the start of his speech. "Your continued support... which transcends partisan affiliations, is of paramount importance to us."

Olmert outlined his vision of "permanent and defensible borders with united Jerusalem as its capital," which he said would be "open and accessible for the worship of all religions. This was the dream to which Ariel Sharon was totally committed."

Author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel helped write the speech, which commenced a little after 6 P.M. Israel time, and was broadcast live on Channel 1 television.

Olmert spent hours working on the speech, poring over drafts written by two Foreign Ministry officials, including attorney Daniel Taub of the Law Division. Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, and his foreign policy adviser, Shalom Turjeman, were in charge of the final version.