PM: I Can Withstand Pressure for Another Disengagement Plan

In a pre-Passover interview, PM says demographics were vital in determining route of separation fence.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon believes he will be able to resist international pressure for a further withdrawal from the West Bank "the day after" the upcoming pullout.

In a pre-Passover interview with Haaretz on Wednesday, Sharon said the disengagement will definitely proceed but that no decision had been made on postponing the pullout until after the Tisha B'Av fast on August 14. He added that he would be discussing the matter with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

In an effort to curry favor with the settlers, the prime minister said they were "a leading group" that still faced important national tasks in settling the Negev, Galilee and Judea.

"There, we are building 1,000 apartments in Betar Illit and hundreds of apartments in Ma'aleh Admumim," Sharon said.

The prime minister said he had agreed to consider postponing the pullout from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank from the July 20 date, and supported moving the Gaza Strip settlers en masse to Nitzanim because he wanted to make the disengagement easier and help to mend the rift in the nation.

Sharon said that Israel would insist after the pullout that the Palestinian Authority meet all its security obligations, and dismantle the terrorist organizations as a condition for moving ahead with the road map peace plan.

Sharon also commented on the demographic problem - whose existence he has denied in the past - saying that it had played a decisive role in the route of the separation fence.

"Had we wanted to build the fence on the border of the security zone, known today as Area C, the fence would have been a lot further to the east," he said. "But such a move would have left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians inside the fence, and these Palestinians would have eventually joined forces with Arab Israelis, and then it would certainly have been a major problem."

In a pre-holiday interview with Israel Radio broadcast Thursday, Sharon addressed the issue of Iran's nuclear program. The prime minister said that eventually there will be no alternative to bringing the Islamic state before the UN Security Council for sanctions.

Sharon also said he is concerned that the world is becoming used to the idea of a nuclear Iran.

"I am troubled by the fact - we hear this perhaps more in Europe than in the United States - that the world is beginning to grow accustomed to the idea that the day will come and Iran will be a member of the nuclear weapons club," he said.

Sharon reiterated, however, that Israel will not lead the international effort to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, and that now is the time for diplomatic pressure - not a military strike.