WASHINGTON — The United States will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, and will continue to remain steadfast on topics central to Israel’s security in the nuclear negotiations, US President Barack Obama assured Israeli President Shimon Peres during a Wednesday afternoon meeting at the White House.
Peres is on his final foreign trip before leaving office next month.
Obama told Peres that there were still gaps between the sides in the P5+1 talks with Iran, which are being held in the hopes of reaching a permanent agreement with Tehran by July 20 to curb its nuclear program. Briefing Peres on the current state of the negotiations, Obama promised that the US position would not change on Iran’s breakout potential or on key aspects of its technological development, and said that the US will not compromise on Israel’s security.
After the meeting, Peres told journalists that he hoped the final agreement with Iran would be similar to the agreement by which Syria was forced to part with its entire chemical weapons stockpile and the dismantling of its related infrastructure earlier this year. With such a deal in place, he said, Israel would consider supporting the removal of some of the sanctions against Tehran.
The visit was Peres’s last trip to the White House after some five decades’ worth of top level meetings with US presidents from John F. Kennedy onward. Obama told Peres that he expected to see the nonagenarian continue his work advancing peace in the Middle East even after he leaves office in July.
During his White House visit, Peres participated in three meetings – a roundtable with Obama and American Jewish community representatives, a working lunch and then a brief but private meeting in the Oval Office.
Obama began his address to American Jewish leaders by expressing his concern for the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers who have been missing for almost two weeks. Obama told the group that the two countries have worked in close coordination, and that the US will continue to offer its assistance to locate the trio.
Peres called on Obama to stand by Israel in an unequivocal manner regarding the kidnappings. The topic has been a sensitive one on the international stage, with a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon noting that the UN had “no concrete evidence” that the kidnapping had even occurred.
Obama asked for Peres’s opinion on three key topics during the meeting – Iran, Iraq, and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Peres told the president that he supported his decision not to send large numbers of combat troops to Iraq. Instead, Peres stressed, the fight between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq is an ancient conflict stemming from an argument over the true heirs to the Prophet Mohammed – and the Arab League should take the lead in the effort to stem the tide of violence in the country. Peres reminded Obama that the Arab League has extensive military capabilities, and said that “it is time” for the organization to take responsibility for rectifying the situation in Iraq.
Peres began his conversation with Obama by stressing his request for a humanitarian release for Jonathan Pollard, the US-born Israeli spy who has spent almost 30 years in prison for passing classified information to Israel.
Peres met with Pollard’s wife, Esther, and his attorneys before heading to the US, and left Obama with what Israeli officials described as a new proposal for Pollard’s release. According to officials, Peres brought the necessary legal documents with him to the meeting with Obama, and handed them to the American president.
Washington was reportedly considering releasing the spy recently in exchange for Israeli concessions in the troubled peace process with the Palestinians brokered by the United States, which has since foundered.
Peres told Obama that the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority can be renewed, and should be renewed soon. He reiterated comments made earlier this week, in which he said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was a “real partner” for peace, but stressed that Hamas, a partner in the technocratic unity government, was a terror organization. “You can’t put fire and water in the same cup,” Peres told Obama.
Noting continued rocket fire against Israel’s south from the Gaza Strip, Peres said that Israel must continue to battle Hamas.
On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden will present Peres with the Congressional Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the Capitol, where Peres is expected to make a rare speech before both houses of Congress. During that speech, Peres will address the topic of the three kidnapped teenagers.
AP contributed to this report.