President Shimon Peres told a Washington DC audience Tuesday that Israel did not want to be an enemy of Iran, but feared Tehran’s nuclear program and its desire for Middle Eastern hegemony.

Peres was speaking together with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a Brookings Institution event. He is in Washington to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday from President Barack Obama.

The Israeli president explained that Israel does not only fear that Iran will acquire the atomic bomb — but also Iranian leaders’ desire for imperialism — “their hegemony.” He cited their export of terror and oppression, as well as the country’s aggressive position within the Middle East.

Clinton reiterated the fact that the P5+1 powers have a “unified position (on the framework for halting Iran’s nuclear drive)… which gives Iran, if they’re interested in taking it, a very clear diplomatic path.”

After Clinton made critical statements about Russia allegedly sending attack helicopters to Syria, Peres thanked her for her “unprecedented role” as a diplomat in a new world order.

He then said that two unprecedented things are happening in Syria — the “bravery of the Syrian people… who are facing fire every day against a dictator who kills children” and the fact that the Arab League has taken responsibility against an Arab country. He said both occurrences are worthy of applause.

On Palestinian-Israeli peace, Peres said that the Palestinians have begun to build a nation “with American help and with the support of Israel,” and that this push towards reform has made Palestinians ready for peace. He commended Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, calling him a “serious man,” and lauded the force of 15,000 American-trained security personnel he heads.

Peres referenced the Oslo Accords signed by former leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat “just a few feet from here [in the White House Rose Garden],” with the help of Bill Clinton. “Nineteen years have passed since that moment,” he said, “but things take time,” Peres added. “You can’t make a baby become a boy in a short while.”

Panetta, Peres on their countries’ shared values

On Monday, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Peres met at the Pentagon to discuss regional concerns.

Peres stated that the time to prevent Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb is running out, and that the regime continues to “lie and deceive.” He also thanked the US for its strong support of Israel.

Panetta said that the US and Israel military relationship is rock solid. “I am pleased to note that the cooperation between the two militaries is stronger than ever,” he said.

He said Israel and the US share the same goals: “peace, prosperity, and the dream of giving our children a better life,” according to a press release.

He added that Peres’s life’s work — to advance peace, human dignity and freedom — represents the basic values that are at the core of the US-Israel relationship. and said that the freedom award is “a fitting recognition” of Peres.