Israel’s president said Sunday he was willing to meet his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani.
“I don’t have enemies,” emphasized Shimon Peres in an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest at the 2013 Globes Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv. “We don’t consider Iran as an enemy.”
“Enemies [are] not a matter of a person,” Peres continued, “but a matter of policy. There were times [when] we didn’t want to meet, for example, with Arafat. But the moment Arafat changed his policy, why not? We are for peace. And finally, I believe, [our] purpose is to convert enemies to friends.”
Official relations between Israel and Iran have been suspended since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In late November, Rouhani’s government signed a nuclear deal with the six world powers known as the P5+1, an agreement sharply criticized by Israel.
Peres refrained from denouncing or supporting the agreement, but reiterated the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
“The problem is what will happen in the coming six months,” the president said, “It’s a trial period. President Obama said that for him also this is a trial and gave an estimate of 50/50 as to whether it will succeed. We have to concentrate all our efforts to make sure Iran doesn’t become a nuclear danger to the rest of the world. The Iranians are paying heavily, the sanctions are costly and they aren’t being stopped. President Obama constructed a coalition and he can’t go alone, it’s hard to have sanctions if two mighty countries like Russia and China don’t participate.
“There is no argument that we prefer a diplomatic solution, no one wants to run and shoot. All options remain on the table to give weight to the words; the ones who are meant to listen must realize they could face a far more complicated situation. No one wants Iran to have a nuclear bomb, no one wants to have an Iranian danger hanging over our skies.”
The six-month interim nuclear deal includes greater access for UN inspectors to Iran’s nuclear facilities and a cap on the level of uranium enrichment in return for a halt to new sanctions and an easing of existing sanctions.
Rouhani gloated after the accord, saying it turned the tables on Israel.
“Many were trying to isolate Iran, but who is isolated today? Our enemies are in fact isolated,” he said, according to a translation by the semi-official Press TV.
He did not refer to Israel by name, but used language — “an illegitimate, occupier regime” — commonly used to describe the country, which the Iranian regime considers an archenemy.
Israel has repeatedly criticized the deal and called it a “historic mistake.”
Peres released a statement at the time, addressing the Iranian people in the same language he did at Sunday’s conference: “You are not our enemies and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands. Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles. Israel, like others in the international community, prefers a diplomatic solution.”
During the interview at the Globes Conference, conversation also turned to the ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians.
“It’s not yet finished, we’re still negotiating,” Peres told Quest. “If it was concluded we would have to negotiate. There are two major problems: Israel’s security after our experience when we left Gaza which made many Israelis reluctant to do likewise in the West Bank. On the other hand is the problem of our existence as a Jewish state, a state where the Jewish people are a majority. It’s not a matter of declarations; it’s a matter of numbers.”
Peres also said that he believed peace was possible with the Palestinians. “It’s complicated to negotiate, not only with the other side but also with your own people, to convince them that it’s a plan that will make them safe.”