Olmert cabinet 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Washington shouldn't rule out the use of military force against Iran, former US senator John Edwards told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday while on a visit here. He also backed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's unilateral realignment plan.
Edwards, a Democrat from North Carolina, is considered likely to run for the presidency in 2008, after losing in the 2004 race as John Kerry's running mate.
"We cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weapons," he declared, endorsing America's current approach of working with the Europeans using diplomatic levers.
But he said the "carrots" on offer have to come with heavy pressure, such as "serious sanctions."
In terms of the "stick" of military strikes, he said, "I would never take any option off the table."
Edwards also pointed to the lack of a negotiating partner for Israel following the Hamas takeover of the Palestinian Authority, clearing the way for the realignment plan. He noted that details of the plan, which calls for withdrawing from many West Bank settlements in exchange for bolstering major blocs, still have to be worked out.
"Israel is in the unfortunate position of having to act without an agreement. I think American [officials] are supportive of that and want to be helpful in that effort - including me," he said.
Those words were stronger than those used by President George W. Bush to assess the realignment plan during Olmert's visit to the Oval Office last month.
"I would call them bold ideas. These ideas could lead to a two-state solution if a pathway to progress on the road map is not open in the period ahead," Bush said at a press conference during the visit. "No party should prejudice the outcome of negotiations on a final status agreement, [but] the prime minister's ideas could be an important step toward the peace we both support."
In discussions with cabinet ministers, Edwards also examined ways that America and Israel could create a mechanism to funnel humanitarian aid to the Palestinians without money going to the Hamas-led PA.
Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter were among the government officials who met with Edwards during his four-day trip, which ended Wednesday. His schedule also included meetings with Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, Labor secretary-general Ephraim Sneh and former PA finance minister Salaam Fayad.
The visit, Edward's second, included a helicopter tour surveying the route of the security barrier, the northern border and the Golan Heights.
"It gave a very physical sense of the threat the Israeli people face every day," he said.
The trip was arranged by the American-Israel Education Foundation, an AIPAC sister organization. Each year the foundation hosts dozens of congressmen, presidential candidates, political consultants and other American political heavyweights.