GLOBAL ECONOMIC VIEWPOINT
SHIMON PERES: IRANIAN BOMB WOULD FORGE NUCLEAR BALKANS IN MIDDLE EAST
Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Party and a former prime minister and foreign minister of Israel, spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Monday.
Nathan Gardels: Last week the United States expressed renewed alarm over the Iranian nuclear program, noting that Iran had reneged on its agreement with Russia, France and Great Britain to shut down its centrifuges that can enrich uranium.
Does this say to you that Iran intends to ignore international opinion and go ahead with its program to create a nuclear bomb?
Shimon Peres: Yes. What is going on is clear. First Iran denied they had the nuclear facilities. Then they made a promise to the Europeans that they would curb their program. And they have now violated that promise.
Here is the problem. If Iran gets a nuclear bomb, it will force the countries around it to do the same. The whole area will become a "nuclear Balkans." In addition, Iran is the center of terrorism in the Middle East.
Gardels: You mean Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey might be tempted to go nuclear as well?
Peres: I don't want to be the one who says the names. I will leave that up to you. I say Balkans because the whole region is a broken Muslim power. Nothing divides the Muslim world more than their unity. The longest war in the Middle East, which lasted seven years and had 4 million casualties, was between Iran and Iraq. And it can happen again.
The greatest danger, of course, is that Iran may be the first country to provide terrorists with unconventional weapons. That is a mortal danger. There are three important figures about the Middle East. It has 8 percent of the world population, 2 percent of the wealth of the world economy but 65 percent of world terror.
Iran has a finger everywhere terror takes place: in Iraq, with Hezbollah and among the Palestinians. Further, it will be impossible to settle the situation in Iraq unless there is a change in Iranian policies. Now that the Iraqi army is gone, the border with Iran is open to the flow of arms, terrorists and money. They deny it, of course. But we know for sure that you can't trust Iranian denials.
And on top of all this, Iran is the only member of the United Nations that openly calls for the destruction of another state: Israel.
So there are three options for trying to stop Iran from fulfilling its nuclear course: political pressure, economic sanction or military action.
Gardels: Now, with their rejection of the European agreement, hasn't the political option been exhausted?
Peres: Yes. I think it is time to move to economic sanctions. But for these sanctions to be effective, the U.S. and Europe must harmonize their policies. If one will be lax and the other decisive, it won't work.
Gardels: The United States has spent so much global political capital on the war in Iraq that it is now difficult for it to pre-empt an Iranian nuclear capacity . . . .
Peres: I don't suggest a military pre-emption. I think economic sanctions can achieve this goal because there are forces in Iran itself that are very unhappy with the regime of the ayatollahs.
Gardels: If Iran's mullahs giving a nuclear bomb to terrorists is a "mortal danger," wouldn't it be in Israel's legitimate self-defense to pre-empt Iran militarily, like it did when it attacked the Osirik reactor in Iraq?
Peres: I don't suggest that Israel be the leading force in disarming Iraq's nuclear capacity. Israel does not need another confrontation with Muslim countries. The Americans wisely did not ask Israel to help with Iraq. The same is true here.
(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.