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Netanyahu: Change in Iran Could Bring Peaceful Israel Ties Print E-mail

By Reuters
June 22, 2009

Peaceful relations between Israel and Iran would be possible if new leadership took power in Tehran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with a German newspaper.

"There is no conflict between the Iranian people and the people of Israel and under a different regime the friendly relations that prevailed in the past could be restored," Netanyahu told German daily Bild.

Hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust a "great deception" and said Israel should be wiped from the map, was officially re-elected in a June 12 vote that the opposition has denounced as a fraud.

The election has provoked the most violent unrest in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution which ousted the U.S.-backed shah. Iran has accused the West and its media of playing a role in fomenting unrest.

Netanyahu said he had "no doubts" that Iran's citizens would choose a different government if allowed to vote freely.

"What we have seen in Iran is a powerful desire on the part of the Iranian people to be free," he said.

In the interview, Netanyahu also touched on ties with the Palestinians.

He said Israel shared the view of other governments around the world that the Palestinians should be allowed to live peacefully and freely alongside Israel.

"What hasn't been expressed clearly enough was the consensus that exists on the Israeli side and that has characterized successive governments," he said.

"We want to live peacefully next to the Palestinians and we don't want to govern them. We want them to have all the powers to govern themselves -except those handful of powers that could threaten Israel."

But he reiterated there were conditions to Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state, including that such a state be demilitarized and that it recognise Israel as a nation.

"We don't want to have another Iran next to our borders," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said Sunday that he would not second-guess U.S. President Barack Obama's approach on Iran, following the Tehran government's political crackdown.

In an interview with American network NBC's "Meet the Press," Netanyahu said that the world was sympathetic to the Iranians' protest of the recent contested election, but added it was unclear whether the unrest would spur change in Tehran's policies.

"I have no doubt everybody in the world is sympathetic to the Iranians' desire for freedom," Netanyahu said when asked about the street demonstrations that have erupted in Iran since the disputed June 12 election.

Netanyahu told NBC that he knows Obama wants the Iranian people to be free, adding that free people everywhere were amazed by the willingness of the Iranian people to stand up for their rights.

"I think it's too early to say what will transpire in Iran and on the international stage," said Netanyahu, who spoke from here. He reiterated Israel's position that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

President Shimon Peres, meanwhile, applauded Iran's pro-reform protesters Sunday, saying the young should raise their voice for freedom - an explicit message of support from a country that sees itself as most endangered by the hard-line government in Tehran.

Peres suggested the protesters could bring down their leaders.

"Let the young people raise their voice for freedom, let the Iranian women ... voice their thirst for equality," Peres told a gathering of world Jewish leaders.

"I really don't know what will disappear first, their enriched uranium, or their poor government," said Peres. "Hopefully, the poor government will disappear."

Israeli officials have said little so far about the Iranian protest movement, which has topped news broadcasts since demonstrations erupted more than a week ago. Initially, officials indicated they saw little difference between Ahmadinejad and his rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who asserts he won the election.

"Israeli leaders may be reluctant to openly support the protesters because being identified with Israel could do them more harm than good," said political scientist Shlomo Aronson of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, said last week that Iran may obtain the technology to build an atomic weapon by 2014.
 

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