President Shimon Peres on Thursday rejected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s contention that his country’s nuclear program is designed for peaceful purposes.“If you don’t want nuclear bombs, why do you have missiles? Why do you need nuclear carriers?” Peres asked in a question-and-answer session with Jerusalem Post editor- in-chief Steve Linde at the paper’s second Diplomatic Conference at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya.Asked by Linde for his opinion on Rouhani, Peres stated that the Iranian people had voted for Rouhani not because he was a total revolutionary, but because of all the candidates, he was the least extreme and represented a moderate position.The Iranians aim for hegemony in the Middle East, Peres continued, but they cannot succeed, because the entire region is in turmoil.“Terrorism is splitting up the Middle East,” he said.Taking into account Iran’s economic crisis, impoverished populace and brain drain, Peres assessed that Iran might fear an “Iranian Spring.” The president opined that terror would increase over the next decade, as America takes over from the Middle East as the world’s largest supplier of oil and gas. He said that the enemies of terror will need to form a united front and emphasized that “pacification is a must.”
Peres was critical of the fact that in a rapidly changing world, decision makers continue to talk as if nothing has changed.Responding to a question regarding statements by MK Avigdor Liberman, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, saying that there is no peace partner on the Palestinian side, Peres said that he disagreed.He said that as someone who has known Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for 30 years, he could state that Abbas had not given up his hope for peace.While acknowledging points of disagreement, Peres said there was enough common ground between the two sides to start negotiations.“If you want peace, you have to make a partner out of a non-partner,” he added. Peres also disagreed with those members of Knesset who want to change what constitutes a majority when voting on the future of Jerusalem. Throughout his own 48 years in the Knesset, he said, he always had doubts about privilege laws, because it is wrong to allow 55 people to decide what 80 people had previously decided. He warned that next time, it might be 45 instead of 55.Fielding a question from an overseas admirer about how to deal with Israel’s poor image, Peres joked that he didn’t “feel any hostility from a small country like China,” nor from India or the Vatican.He asserted that Israel is admired for its scientific capability and its achievements, and that compared to other countries, Israel is not in bad shape.Peres is a veteran reader of The Jerusalem Post, which he said was “a responsible and consistent” supporter of Israel without losing its journalistic objectivity.Linde asked the president what he would do when his seven-year tenure ends in nine months.“I won’t stop ‘doing’ because I stop being president,” Peres replied. “A man who wants to serve the public does not ask himself what to be, but what to do.”At the end of the interview, Linde asked Peres his own version of the famous question of French interviewer Bernard Pivot, “If Heaven exists, what would like to hear God say when you arrive – or what would you say to Him?” “I have some suggestions on how to improve the world,” quipped Peres.