Israeli president: US outreach to Iran OK for now

 Israeli President Shimon Peres speaks with The Associated Press during an interview, Tuesday, May 5, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari...

Peres US Israel

Israeli President Shimon Peres speaks with The Associated Press during an interview, Tuesday, May 5, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari...

Israeli President Shimon Peres cautiously endorsed new U.S. outreach to Iran following a longer-than-expected visit with President Barack Obama on Tuesday, saying that the American leader should be given a chance to resolve differences with Iran through negotiation.

Peres is the first top-level Israeli to visit the new president. A more important gauge of relations between Israel and the United States will come later this month, when Israel's hawkish new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, meets Obama at the White House. Netanyahu has not ruled out military action against Iran and as a candidate opposed giving up land for peace with the Palestinians.

Peres said he emerged from the nearly hour-long session reassured that the United States under Obama will prize Israel's security and will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons.

"As long as the goal is clear, why not try all means?" Peres said of the latest U.S. overtures toward Iran. "If you can achieve it by engagement, God bless you."

That played down the potential for a split between Israel and its closest ally and defender over the best way to deal with Iran, a crucial Mideast power whose leader regularly calls for Israel's destruction.

Obama has made tentative and inconclusive overtures to Iran since becoming president in January. As a candidate he alarmed some in Israel, and some of the Jewish state's strongest U.S. backers, by pledging to meet Iran's leaders face to face if it would help U.S. goals in the region.

Iran denies it is trying to build nuclear weapons; Israel is presumed to already have them.

Peres said he made clear that Israel still considers Iran a mortal threat. He steered around a discussion of what either country might do if Iran spurned the offer of a new relationship with the United States, or if it appeared on the verge of getting the bomb.

Peres, elected separately, said the new Netanyahu government will abide by agreements made by past Israeli leaders, including the pledge to negotiate for a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Although Netanyahu has avoided any explicit endorsement of the so-called "two-state solution," Peres suggested that Netanyahu embraces an idea of peace that accomplishes the same thing. The new prime minister has said he welcomes negotiations and that he does not want to govern the Palestinians, Peres noted.

Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called on Israel to work toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians and halt its construction of new settlements. He called on Arab states to respond with “meaningful gestures.”

“Israel has to work towards a two-state solution,” Biden said in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington. “You’re not going to like my saying this, but do not build more settlements. Dismantle existing outposts and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement.”

Biden also told the pro-Israeli lobbying group that the administration is “intensely focused” on preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. If diplomacy fails, the U.S. has “international support to consider other options” to thwart Iran’s ambitions, he said.

Updated : 2021-02-28 09:03 GMT+08:00