Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Olmert Urges Action to Head off Nuclear Iran

Jeffrey Heller, Reuters:
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Wednesday Iran's nuclear ambitions posed "the test of our time" and urged swift international action to meet what he termed a threat to the existence of the Jewish state. "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," Olmert said in a warmly received address to both chambers of Congress.

"This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail," he said, estimating that Iran "stands on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons". READ MORE

Olmert, on his first U.S. visit since taking office after Ariel Sharon's incapacitating stroke in January, said Iran had declared the United States its enemy and noted that its president had called for Israel to be wiped off the map.

"For us, this is an existential threat. A threat to which we cannot consent. But its 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," he said.

"History will judge our generation by the actions we take now ... the international community will be measured not by its intentions but by its results," he said, cautioning that "another dark and gathering storm" was casting its shadow over the world.

Iran insists it wants only to produce energy for civilian use, but Western powers argue it is using a civilian nuclear program as a cover for producing the highly enriched uranium needed for atomic bombs.

World powers met in London on Wednesday to discuss a package of incentives and threats aimed at defusing the Iranian crisis. It was unclear whether the talks would resolve serious differences between Washington and Moscow over U.S. demands Iran face sanctions.


At White House talks with Olmert on Tuesday, President George W. Bush pledged to come to Israel's aid if it is attacked, comments Israeli commentators said also represented a subtle warning not to take military action against Iran.

Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, destroyed Iraq's atomic reactor in an air strike in 1981.

Olmert, in a briefing to reporters, said he and Bush saw eye-to-eye on the Iranian issue. Israel has said frequently it would take a back seat to international efforts to press Iran to halt uranium enrichment work.

In his speech to Congress, Olmert again offered to hold talks with moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, saying: "I extend my hand in peace."

But Olmert repeated he would put into motion his unilateral plan to redraw the Jewish settlement map in the occupied West Bank if Israel could not find a peace partner now that the militant Hamas group was in charge of the Palestinian government.

"The Palestinian Authority is ruled by Hamas, an organization committed to vehement anti-Semitism, the glorification of terror and the total destruction of Israel. As long as these are their guiding principles, they can never be a partner," Olmert said.

Bush, at a news conference with Olmert on Tuesday, described the prime minister's go-it-alone proposals as "bold ideas" in a surprise boost for the plan condemned by the Palestinians a means of denying them a viable state.

Under the "realignment" blueprint, still on the drawing board, Israel would remove isolated settlements in the West Bank while bolstering major enclaves and setting a border by 2010 if peacemaking remains frozen.