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(photo credit: AP)
NATO will have to play a part in ensuring security if Israel is to carry out significant territorial concessions, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni hinted in Brussels on Friday.
"There needs to be an understanding that peace requires not only a political agreement between the parties - that is to be achieved only through direct bilateral talks - but also through the assurances of its implementation on the ground," Livni said at a speech to the foreign ministers of NATO countries.
"Israel's ability to reach an agreement based on substantial territorial concessions directly relates to our need to make sure we do not jeopardize our security and our future. Here, I believe, the dialogue between Israel and NATO begins."
Livni, who took part in the NATO meeting along with foreign ministers from several other countries in the region - including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia - said Israel was "keen to further develop its relations with NATO, both in terms of the political and strategic dialogue at all levels, as well as in the practical initiatives."
Regarding the "practical initiatives," Livni seemed to be hinting at the possibility of a deployment of NATO forces to Gaza, something that has been raised on numerous occasions in the past by both ranking Israeli and Palestinian officials, when she said, "We are now in a process that is expected to strengthen the capabilities of the Palestinian Authority - so they would fight terror instead of Israel. However, one cannot exclude the possibility that we will need to discuss what can be the role of NATO in supporting the need for a change, a real change, on the ground."
Livni repeated a theme she has stressed over the last week that the international community should stay out of the bilateral negotiations that are to begin Wednesday between Israel and the PA.
"I know that you are interested in the bilateral process, you want to help. However, the decisions for a peace treaty need to be made by both sides," she said. "Only the direct parties of this conflict can make decisions about their own destinies."
Livni said Israel's ability to make compromises on the issue of borders "directly relates to our security needs."
Regarding Iran, Livni, speaking in the wake of last week's US National Intelligence Estimate that said Teheran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, said that Iran was "a dangerous regime based on an extreme religious ideology and speaks clearly about its vision of wiping a state off the map, denies the Holocaust, works with radical elements in order to undermine other regimes in the region and finances terrorist organizations - while [it] simultaneously tries to achieve nuclear weapons."
Livni said there should be "no mistake" that trying to achieve nuclear weapons was Iran's goal and the purpose of its continuing its uranium enrichment program "in clear violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and Security Council resolutions."
She said she was "pleased to hear" the statements from the NATO foreign ministers that they would continue "the pressure and sanctions in Iran, because any hesitation now is a victory to the extremists over the camp of moderates that we are all part of."
Meanwhile, defense officials in Israel stressed over the weekend that while Israeli efforts were currently focused on getting the international community to impose additional sanctions on Iran, the "military option" was still on the table.
Israeli officials have expressed dismay with the US report, which they said could serve as an obstacle to efforts to impose a new round of sanctions against Iran.
On Sunday morning, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen was scheduled to land in Israel for a 24-hour visit that will include a one-on-one meeting with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
During the meetings, the IDF will try to convince Mullen that Iran is continuing with its nuclear military program and that it is possible that the Islamic Republic will have a functioning nuclear device by 2009, way ahead of the NIE prediction of 2013.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i said over the weekend that Israel would still consider a military strike against Iran to stop what it believes is a nuclear arms program despite the US intelligence report.
For now, Israel believes diplomatic pressure on Iran must be exhausted, Vilnai told Army Radio.
But when asked if he believed an Israeli strike was possible, Vilnai said, "no option needs to be off the table."
Yaakov Katz and AP contributed to this report.
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