Peres: Iran Can Be Destroyed Too, but I'm Not Suggesting an Eye for an Eye

NEW YORK - Vice Premier Shimon Peres said yesterday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, should bear in mind that his own country could also be destroyed.

"They want to wipe out Israel ... Now when it comes to destruction, Iran too can be destroyed [but] I don't suggest to say an eye for an eye," Peres told Reuters.

"Israel would defend itself under any condition but we don't look upon it as an Iranian-Israeli conflict exclusively... [Iran] is basically a danger to the world, not just to us," he said.

Peres said Iran was mocking the international community's attempts to resolve the crisis over its nuclear ambitions and that the credibility of the United Nations Security Council was on the line.

Peres said he believed Iran would take a unified international front seriously, but was making a "mockery" of the world because it saw divisions in the way different countries wanted to react.

The Security Council had to act, added Peres. "If the crucial moment will come and they are incapable of taking or making a policy ... then they endanger their existence as an important world body," he said.

Peres warned of a nuclear arms race if Iran produced a nuclear weapon. "If Iran becomes nuclear many other countries will follow suit... and whoever will have a conflict will produce a bomb, and finally some bombs will reach the hands of terror," he said.

The UN's Security Council is due to vote tomorrow or the next day on the American-European resolution proposal on the Iranian nuclear issue. Diplomats in the UN headquarters said yesterday that despite Russia and China's firm position against the mandatory wording of the proposal, the two would not use their veto to thwart its adoption.

It is assumed that the required majority of nine members to adopt the resolution is assured. If Russia and China abstain, Qatar, the non permanent member in the council, is expected to join them.

Russia and China are against provisions in the draft proposal by the U.S., Britain and France that invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. This could imply Iran's nuclear program is a threat to global security and pave the way for sanctions - or even military action - against Iran.

Ahmedinejad yesterday wrote to President George Bush, offering "new solutions" to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. The letter is the first public approach by an Iranian president to an American one since the Islamic revolution in the country in 1979.

Previous public messages Iran sent the U.S. consisted of harsh criticism and accused Washington of harassing Iran over its nuclear program and its imperialist involvement in Iraq.

Iranian government spokesman Gulamhussein Elham said Ahmedinejad's letter deals with the nuclear issue, but did not say whether it referred to the possibility of direct talks with the U.S.

The importance of the letter depends on whether Iran will change its typically chastising rhetoric, which Washington tends to dismiss. Analysts believe there is little chance of Ahmedinejad suggesting that Iran cease to produce nuclear fuel, and this is what the UN and Western diplomats see as the only way to defuse the nuclear issue.

On the contrary, they say Ahmedinejad is expected to approach the United States from a position of strength. Iran is building itself up as a regional heavyweight, after having announced it was enriching uranium.

Dr. Ali Ansari, a specialist in Iran at Scotland's St. Andrews University, said the letter could be an attempt on Ahmedinejad's part to follow in the footsteps of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

"I suspect he may be trying to emulate Khomeini's letter to (Mikhail) Gorbachev. He gave him a lesson in international politics and told him if he carried on the Soviet Union would collapse... (Khomeini) told him to embrace Islam," he said.

The U.S. and Iran severed diplomatic ties in 1980, after radical students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and seized 52 Americans, whom they held hostage for 444 days.

Iranian and U.S. officials met covertly several times in the 1980s. These contacts were made public during the "Iran-Contra" scandal, when the U.S. sold Iran weapons for its assistance in releasing American hostages in Lebanon.

President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani made an open overture to the United States in 1995, offering the U.S. firm Conoco a $1 billion natural gas deal. President Bill Clinton rebuffed him.

U.S. officials often cite Iran's implacable hostility toward Israel as a key obstacle to restoring ties.

More than any of his recent predecessors, Ahmedinejad has raised hackles in the United States, by asserting that Israel should be "wiped off the map." Bush told Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper such comments should be seen as a serious threat to Israel and other countries.