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(photo credit: AP)
Israel does not intend to bomb Iran, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday in Moscow, muddling Israel's message on the matter, which has consistently been that all options remain on the table.
Lieberman, on the last day of a three-day trip to Russia, told reporters that other countries in the Middle East and around the world should be concerned about Iran's nuclear program, and that they should not expect Israel to solve the problem for them.
"We do not intend to bomb Iran, and nobody will solve their problems with our hands," he told reporters. "We don't need that. Israel is a strong country, we can protect ourselves."
These were the most explicit comments on the matter by a top minister in the Netanyahu government to date.
"But the world should understand that Iran's entrance into the nuclear club would prompt a whole arms race, a crazy race of nonconventional weaponry across the Mideast that is a threat to the entire world order, a challenge to the whole international community," Lieberman added. "So we do not want a global problem to be solved with our hands."
The comments appeared to be a slight softening from recent statements made by Netanyahu's government that have suggested Israel might be forced to take military action against Iran.
The prime minister has repeatedly said that Teheran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, and has refused to rule out the use of force.
After his recent meeting in Washington with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu said he and the US president agreed that Iran must not obtain nuclear weapons, and efforts to solve the problem through negotiations could not be given unlimited time. Netanyahu said that he made clear to Obama that Israel retained the right to self-defense.
Lieberman also said, however, that Israel would not attend the international conference on the Middle East that Russia hopes to host this year if either Iran or Hizbullah were invited. He was responding to reports that Iran and Hizbullah might be asked to attend.
Israel's position is that it is not opposed to the Moscow conference in principle, but that its timing and parameters need to be carefully worked out.
The Itar-Tass news agency, meanwhile, quoted Lieberman as telling the press conference that Russia had a better attitude toward Israel and the Jewish People than many European countries.
According to the report, Lieberman - referring to a recent public opinion poll - said "the degree of tolerance to Israel and Jews" is much higher in Russia than in many European countries.
"Of course, there are marginal groups in Russia. There is enough xenophobia, but in general Russian authorities and society's attitude is more than positive," he said.
Lieberman, who met in Russia with President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, flew Wednesday to Minsk where he is scheduled to meet Belarus's controversial President Alexander Lukashenko.
AP contributed to this report.