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Lapid in Moscow: If the world doesn’t stop a nuclear Iran, Israel will act

Foreign minister tells Russian counterpart that while Israel recognizes Moscow’s interests in Syria, ‘we’ll maintain our ability to defend ourselves’; Lavrov to visit Israel soon

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) makes comments to the press alongside his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow, on September 9, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) makes comments to the press alongside his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow, on September 9, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

During a visit to Moscow on Thursday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that Iran must be stopped from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“Iran’s march towards a nuclear weapon is not only an Israeli problem, it’s a problem for the entire world,” Lapid said during a press conference following a sit-down meeting with Lavrov. “A nuclear Iran will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”

Lapid declared: “The world needs to stop Iran from getting a nuclear capability, no matter the price,” adding, “If the world doesn’t do it, Israel reserves the right to act.”

The Israeli foreign minister, visiting Moscow on a one-day trip, said, “There won’t be stability in Syria, or in the wider Middle East, while there is an Iranian presence.” He called Tehran “the world’s number one exporter of terror.”

He added that Israel “will not sit quietly by while Iran builds terror bases on our northern border or while Iran supplies advanced weapons to terror organizations.” Lapid said while Jerusalem recognizes Moscow’s “key interests in the region,” Israel will “maintain our ability to defend ourselves in the face of threats from Syria and elsewhere.”

Lapid also noted reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s nuclear program, noting “serious violations, fraud, deception and outright lies.”

“The picture is clear and very worrying,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, welcomes Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, prior to their talks in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (Alexander Nemenov/Pool Photo via AP)

In his own public comments, Lavrov did not mention Iran, but he noted that he and Lapid had discussed the situation in Syria.

“Russia believes… [in] the territorial integrity of Syria,” said Lavrov, adding that “Syria has the right to define the future of its nation.” He stressed the importance of humanitarian aid to Syrians, and blamed Western sanctions for blocking some of that assistance.

In response to a question from a reporter about Israeli airstrikes in Syria, Lavrov said Russia opposes Syria “becoming an arena of confrontations with third parties. This is why we don’t want the Syrian territory to be used against Israel or against any other party,” he added, noting ongoing coordination between Jerusalem and Moscow on activity in the area.

Lavrov also said that Lapid had invited him to visit Israel soon, “and I gladly accept his offer.”

At the same time that Lapid and Lavrov were meeting in Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was meeting with Rob Malley, the US envoy on Iran, to discuss “the prospects of restoring full-fledged implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Months of negotiations in Vienna earlier this year aimed at bringing Iran back into compliance with the 2015 deal — which former US president Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018 — stalled in June after hardliner Ebrahim Raisi was elected the new president of Iran.

File: Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

While Lapid did not mention potential talks between Israel and the Palestinians in his public remarks, Lavrov used his comments to urge restarting discussions.

“We welcome the normalization of relations of Israel with various nations of the region, and we believe that the comprehensive peace process will be boosted by these efforts,” said Lavrov. “Russia will continue to support organizing direct peaceful dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians including through the Quartet” — the supranational body of the UN, EU, US and Russia aimed at fostering Middle East peace.

In response to a question by a reporter, Lapid said Israel was not opposed to an upcoming meeting of the Quartet, “but right now there is nothing of the sort on the table.”

Both foreign ministers also acknowledged the upcoming anniversary marking 30 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Russia.

“It’s very symbolic that [Lapid’s] visit is coming close to an important date, 30 years since the renewal of diplomatic ties between Russia and Israel,” said Lavrov. “These decades have proved that relations have become advanced and developed for the good of both Israel and Russia.”

Lavrov said he expected to “take another step today toward developing these relations, and to discuss the regional and international situation as well as bilateral ties.”

Lapid said over the past 30 years Russia has become “one of Israel’s most significant and important partners.” And he noted that his meeting with Lavrov did not focus solely on “threats and conflicts.”

“Israel and Russia have strong and deep ties in economics, culture, tourism, energy and science,” he noted. “Without Russia, culture in the world, and in Israel, wouldn’t be the same.”

Lapid was accompanied to Moscow by Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, a native of Russia and a fellow member of Yesh Atid, who the foreign minister noted is one of “over a million Russian speakers living in Israel.”

Earlier Thursday, Lapid laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, and paid tribute to the Red Army soldiers who fell in World War II.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a ceremony in Moscow on September 9, 2021, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Speaking alongside Lavrov, Lapid noted that his father, who was imprisoned in the Budapest Ghetto during the Holocaust, was liberated by Russian forces at the end of the war.

“The Red Army saved the world from tyranny and racism. They also saved a 13-year-old boy in the ghetto,” said Lapid. “Three years later, the people of Russia supported the creation of the State of Israel. We owe you. And we are a people with a long memory.”

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