Associated Press (Link) - Jamey Keaten (December 18, 2008)
Benjamin Netanyahu, who hopes to become Israel's next prime minister, warned Thursday that "a terribly dangerous threshold will be crossed" if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, and urged world leaders to make sure it does not happen.
After a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the hardline front-runner in next year's Israeli elections laid out his plans for Mideast peace and called Iran the "greatest historical challenge" the world faces. "We have never had a situation in the history of the world in which a radical regime with a retrograde ideology and apparently known ambitions on the use of force will get access to the weapons of mass death," Netanyahu told reporters, referring to the prospect of an Iranian nuclear bomb.
The whirlwind visit to Paris came as a French parliamentary report raised new warning signs about Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapon, and amid revelations about a budding European Union peace initiative for the Middle East. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier, confirming some details of a report Thursday in the Le Figaro daily newspaper, said EU foreign ministers had discussed earlier this month a "working document" to ease tensions between the Palestinians and Israel.
Netanyahu said he made his position on those issues clear to Sarkozy. "We want a united Jerusalem under Israel, with access to the religious sites, to all the three great faiths," he said. "Our position on refugees is also unchanged: We'll seek a solution to the problem of refugees but not in Israel — we will not entertain refugees, Palestinian refugees, inside Israel."
The meeting also came two days after the Foreign Affairs Commission at France's National Assembly published a report on Iran, detailing concerns that Tehran could achieve a nuclear bomb sometime between 2009 and 2011. Drawing on testimony from dozens of academics, defense experts, diplomats, intelligence chiefs, and officials from Iran, Israel and elsewhere, the report said, "Iran's access to the nuclear bomb is seen as inevitable and very dangerous, notably because of the risks of escalation with the United States."
Jean-Louis Bianco, the Socialist lawmaker who led the preparation of the report, told The Associated Press that the report's major contribution to the debate over Iran's nuclear program was that "we state more clearly than others our belief that they are on the threshold of the nuclear weapon." Bianco said the report's other thrust was its call for "extremely open" talks between the international community and Iran over its nuclear program, which the Islamic regime says is aimed at generating electricity.
"The coming year or two — this is the timetable we are talking about — will be a pivot of history," Netanyahu said. "If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, then a terribly dangerous threshold will be crossed."
Netanyahu also met with French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, laying out what Netanyahu called a "new approach" that would put more attention on Palestinian economic development. Netanyahu's conservative Likud party has been leading in most polls in Israel, although one released on Thursday showed the ruling Kadima party of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni closing the gap. His visit to France was his only stop in Europe this trip. France's presidency of the European Union ends on Dec. 31, and the former Israeli prime minister has claimed a good personal relationship with Sarkozy.