Israel and Russia are united in their conviction that Iran’s nuclear program poses a grave threat to the world, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin, who arrived in Israel Monday afternoon for his first visit to the region since taking office in May.
“We agree that Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is a grave threat first and foremost to Israel, but also to the region and to the world,” Netanyahu said to Putin during a joint press conference in Jerusalem on Monday afternoon.
Later that evening President Shimon Peres echoed the same sentiment.
“I know, Mr. President, that Russia opposes a nuclear Iran. You have expressed this clearly,” Peres said during a public portion of a state dinner at his Jerusalem residence.
He said that Israel does not threaten Iran’s existence and its people are not Iran’s enemy.
But the leadership in Tehran has called itself Israel’s enemy and has threatened to annihilate the Jewish state.
“I am confident that under your leadership Russia will fulfill a key role in restoring security and peace,” Peres said.
In Putin’s few brief public remarks on camera he spoke of the strong relationship between the two countries, but made no clear statements on the major issues under discussion with Israeli leaders behind closed doors – Iran, Syria and Egypt.
“Once again we see that friendship and warm relations between our people are not mere words,” Putin told Peres.
However, the warm handshakes and pleasantries that marked the visit with Peres and Netanyahu – including an exchange of words in Russian – hid a sharp divide between the two countries on significant foreign policy issues such as Iran and Syria.
Moscow has opposed further sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program.
It has also continued to supply what it calls defensive arms to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and to use its veto power in the UN Security Council to protect Syria.
But in regard to Iran, Putin emphasized that he opposed anything to do with the extermination of any people, including Israel. He added that he is looking to make peace in the world, especially in this region.
Putin told Peres, “The region and the world is rapidly changing. We need to find ways to work together that will enable everyone to live in peace.”
During his joint press conference with Netanyahu amid a three-and-ahalf hour meeting, which included a luncheon and a large working meeting, the Russian president spoke globally about the regional issues.
“Of course we talked in detail about Syria and Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
Since the start of the Arab Spring, Moscow has believed that democracy must happen through an independent internal process without external influences, Putin said.
“In light of events in the region, it is important to resolve ancient conflicts,” he said, adding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was first and foremost among those.
“We call on all sides to resume negotiations. It is the only way to solve this problem,” said Putin, who is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. Abbas has refused to hold direct negotiations with Israel unless it freezes settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu assured Putin that he is willing at any moment to resume talks with Abbas, without preconditions.
“The key to peace is complex, but in the end it is very simple: either President Abbas must come here or I must go to him, and I am willing for either of these possibilities to occur.
However, we must begin to talk. I hope you convey this simple message tomorrow during your meeting [with Abbas] in Bethlehem,” Netanyahu said.
With respect to Syria, the prime minister told Putin that the killing of Syrian civilians must be stopped.
On the subject of Iran, Netanyahu reiterated his call for the international community to make three demands on Iran: stop the enrichment of uranium inside Iran, remove all existing enriched uranium from Iran and dismantle the underground nuclear facility near Qom.
“Israel believes the international community must now do two things: ratchet up the sanctions against Iran, and also ratchet up the demands that are being made of Iran,” he said.
Netanyahu noted that he had kept his promise to Putin two years ago during a visit to Moscow to memorialize the historic role the Red Army played in defeating the Nazis.
On Monday, immediately upon arrival, Putin was greeted by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and then taken directly to Netanya. There on the edge of the sea, Putin participated in the dedication ceremony to a large memorial commemorating the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany, built in part with funds from United Israel Appeal.
Later during their meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu told Putin: “For us, memory is a part of our existence.
We fight against Holocaust denial and we join in the fight against the attempt to deny the important role played by the Red Army in defeating the Nazi monster.”