Time is running out for non-military sanctions against Iran, President Shimon Peres told Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi on Wednesday.
Terzi, a former Italian ambassador to Israel met with Peres at the President's Residence before Peres leaves today for Italy to participate in the Ambrosetti Forum, the annual international economic conference held at Villa d'Este on the shores of Lake Como.
The president is scheduled to return to Israel on Sunday.
Terzi's large delegation included another former Italian ambassador to Israel Sandro de Bernardin, who is currently the political and security director general in his country's Foreign Ministry; and Italy's Ambassador Designate Francesco Maria Talo, who has yet to present his credentials to Peres.
Israel has the highest respect for Italian policy on burning issues, beginning with its stance on Iran and moving on to Lebanon, Peres told Terzi.
Peres found it ironic that Iran of all places should have hosted the recent summit of non-aligned countries, which was supposed to be a conference for friendship, peace and co-operation, but which included an anti-Israel tirade.
Peres also referred to the scientific cooperation agreement signed by Iran and North Korea, and said that while he had no intention of defending North Korea, the essential difference between the two was that North Korea doesn't have any ambitions for expansion whereas Iran does and "wants to become the hegemony of the Middle East." Iran has already established bases in the region through its support of Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror organizations said Peres, as well as in Syria and Iraq.
"I can't imagine that the United States and Europe can agree that the Middle East will fall into the hands of Iran with the friendly neutrality of China and Russia," said Peres.
At one stage of the conversation it seemed as if the president had forgotten that his guest was Terzi and thought he was talking to Hillary Clinton. For sentence after sentence, he heaped praise on the United States saying that it is the only great power in history that became great by giving and not by taking.
However when it saw situations such as those in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, which could endanger the whole world, it became tough and became involved.
Peres doubted that the US would exert any military pressure on Iran without a European coalition, and if the US decides to take tougher measures than the sanctions already imposed, he was reasonably certain that such measures would not be implemented until after the upcoming US elections.
For the time being the only sanctions that can be imposed on Iran are economic ones, "but there is a limit to time" he said, adding that non-military pressures have to be made as deep and impressive as possible while making it clear that all other options remain on the table.
Peres said that he was not sure that that the Iranian people were happy with Iranian policies or the Iranian leadership.
He also asserted that he was certain that much of the unrest in Syria could be attributed to Iran sending arms to terror groups there. The problems in Syria are not just political but humanitarian, he said, noting as he has done many times before, his revulsion at seeing the killing of small children. Countries in the Middle East are in a period of transition he said, and in this period evil forces must be held back so that they will not kill the hopes of the young people of the Middle East who want to live in dignity and freedom.
Peres also talked about the problems of the global economy ad said that the lack of predictability can be attributed to the fact that so much the economy today is based on science, and science is unpredictable.
He suggested that one of the ways of alleviating global poverty was for global companies to form a parallel organization to the OECD and to act as an advisory body. At the outset of the meeting, Peres referred to the impressive upgrading of relations between their two countries since Terzi completed his tour of duty in Israel in 2004.
There have been considerable improvements in economic, cultural and social exchanges said Peres, noting that bilateral trade had reached $4 billion.
It had doubled since his time, Terzi acknowledged, and pronounced the relations between Italy and Israel to be "extraordinary" ever since the visit to Israel in 2008 by President Giorgio Napolitano during the celebrations of Italy's 150th anniversary of Italian Unity.
"Few governments in the world are as compatible as Israel and Italy," he said.
With reference to the economic crisis that is plaguing Europe Terzi said that Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is consulting intensely with heads of European governments with the aim of assuring economic stability in Europe.
Terzi made it clear that the economic crisis will not bring about the disintegration of the European Union. "Integration will progress in the EU," he said. "It will not step back." Concurrent with its efforts to repair the economy, Italian foreign policy is oriented more than at any other time towards the Middle East with "Israel as the keystone as a democracy and defender of human rights and human dignity," said Terzi.
Italy is also strengthening its political ties with the new leadership of the Middle East.
Terzi expressed some concern over the Iran conference, because it had shown that Iran was not quite as isolated as the free world would like. For all that he said, the positions of Egypt and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon should not be underestimated.
Italy has been an active player in increasing economic pressure on Iran, to stop uranium enrichment and to make sure that Iran is not seeking to produce nuclear weapons, Terzi stated.
Italy is keen to help bring stability to the region along with assurances for Israel's security, he said.
Terzi also visited the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday and is due to proceed on to Egypt today.