Peres in Madrid 311.
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
The Iranian Navy warships that crossed the Suez Canal on Tuesday are more of a provocation than a threat, President Shimon Peres told a gathering of close to 400 editors, diplomats and opinion-makers at a briefing in Madrid on Wednesday.
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Peres is on a state visit to Spain as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Spain and Israel.
Despite antagonism toward Israel that has been emanating from Spain, the president has been well received on his four-day state visit.
After speaking at the event organized and sponsored by the Europa Press news agency, he received thunderous applause upon observing that he had expected a lot of noise, action and protests, and had been pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the hospitality accorded him.
Peres and former prime minister Felipe González were the architects of the diplomatic relationship, which has known its highs and lows. Spain, which is interested in acquiring Israel’s hi-tech and defense equipment know-how, is actively courting the country in a bid to upgrade relations at all levels.
At the briefing, Peres was plied with questions about unrest and new developments in the Middle East, what repercussions these could have for Israel, the gravity of the Iranian threat and where the peace process with the Palestinians was going.
The president characterized the Iranian warships’ crossing of the Suez Canal as “cheap provocation.” The real danger he said, was the Iranian nuclear program, which he said posed not only a regional threat, but a threat to the whole of Europe and the world at large.
Iran is developing nuclear weapons, which will place the whole world in peril if they fall into the hands of terrorist organizations, he warned.
Spain has already suffered painful terrorist attacks, he said, and similar attacks will follow in other countries if the world does not take drastic steps against Iran.
Iran wants to rule the whole of the Middle East, said Peres, and to impose religious extremism on all the peoples of the region. He insisted that economic sanctions against Iran were not enough; there must also be moral sanctions.
“World leaders who allow themselves to be photographed with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be ashamed,” Peres declared, adding that every effort should be made to prevent the Iranian president from ever again striding across the red carpet of the United Nations.
As for regional upheavals, Peres said Israel supported any effort to strengthen peace and democracy in the Middle East. Young people are seeking freedom, equality and the opportunity to live with dignity, he said.
Recent events, he added, have provided a great opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. The differences are not as great as they appear, and can be overcome, he said.