Israel's president slams Ahmadinejad speech

/ Source: The Associated Press

Israel's president accused Iran's leader on Wednesday of spouting "the darkest anti-Semitic libel" and urged the king of Saudi Arabia to advance his initiative for Mideast peace and Syria's president to agree to face-to-face talks.

Shimon Peres addressed the U.N. General Assembly a day after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at Israel, saying "the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse" and accusing "a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists" of dominating important financial and political decision-making in the United States and some European countries.

The Israeli president called Ahmadinejad "a danger to his own people (and) the world" saying "Tehran combines long-range missiles and short-range minds" and continues to enrich uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons. Iran's seats in the assembly hall were empty as he spoke.

The Iranian president is feared and reviled in Israel because of his repeated calls to wipe the Jewish state off the map, and his aggressive pursuit of nuclear technology has only fueled Israel's fears.

Iran's "quest to religious hegemony and regional dominance divides the Middle East and holds back chances for peace, while undermining human rights," Peres said. "Iranian support for Hezbollah divided Lebanon. Its support for Hamas split the Palestinians and postpones the establishment of the Palestinian state."

Nonetheless, he told world leaders at their annual ministerial meeting that Israel will continue to seek peace, "sincerely and fully."

"We suggest immediate peace with Lebanon," Peres said.

Compromise with Syria
As for Syria, he said, Israeli prime ministers have indicated to the Syrians "that for peace, we are ready to explore a comprehensive compromise."

"To gain trust, and save time, we have suggested face-to-face meetings with President (Bashar) Assad, and I say to the president: `Follow the successful example set by (Egyptian) President (Anwar) Sadat and (Jordan's) King Hussein'," Peres said. "We shall await an answer."

Syria and Israel have held four rounds of indirect talks through Turkish mediation so far and Assad recently said he is looking to have direct, face-to-face talks next year.

The main sticking point has been the extent of an eventual Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The issue led to the collapse of U.S.-brokered direct negotiations in 2000. Syria demands the complete return of the heights. Israel has sought to keep a strip of land around the Sea of Galilee.

Despite "stagnation and regression and failure," Peres said, "Israelis and Arabs are marching towards peace."

He referred to an Arab peace initiative proposed by Saudi King Abdullah in 2002 offering pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for the return of Arab lands and called on the Saudi leader "to further his initiative."

"It may become an invitation for comprehensive peace, one to convert a battleground into common grounds," Peres said.

On another highly contentious issue, he said, "I invite, respectfully, all leaders to come and discuss peace in Jerusalem, which is holy to all of us..."

"Israel shall gladly accept an Arab invitation to designate a venue where a meaningful dialogue may take place," Peres said.

Anti-Semetic text resurfaces
In his attack on Iran's Ahmadinejad, the Israeli president referred to "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a century-old forgery used to justify ill-treatment of Jews in Czarist Russia and widely circulated by the Nazis. Its 24 chapters profess to record discussions by Jewish leaders of plans to take over the world, and it is still distributed today in many languages to stoke hatred of Israel.

"Yesterday, on this very stage, the Iranian leader renewed the darkest anti-Semitic libel — "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," bringing to life one of the ugliest plots against the Jewish people," Peres said.

He also called Iran's "despicable denial of the Holocaust .. a mockery of indisputable evidence, a cynical offense to survivors of the Holocaust."