Avigdor Lieberman Threatens Action Against Iran If No Progress In 3 Months
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday told Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that the West should give Iran three months to respond to diplomatic overtures regarding its contentious nuclear program.
If within three months Iran has still not responded, Lieberman said, "action must be taken."
The foreign minister also asked Berlusconi to implore Russia on his visit there next month to cut off ties with the militant Hamas and Hezbollah organizations, which have close ties to Iran.
During their private talks in Rome, Lieberman promised Berlusconi that the Israeli government was committed to peace with the Palestinians.
Lieberman also extended an invitation to Berlusconi on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu to come visit Israel along with his ministers.
As in his meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini the day before, Lieberman still refrained from endorsing the idea of a Palestinian state - a cornerstone of Western efforts to solve the Middle Rast conflict.
Lieberman, on his first official trip abroad, will next visit Paris on his tour of European capitals.
The hard-line foreign minister has raised concerns in the West with fiery rhetoric seen as aiming to topple the policy of predecessor Tzipi Livni.
In his first speech as foreign minister, Lieberman said concessions to Palestinians would only invite war and declared that Israel was not bound by commitments it made at a 2007 U.S.-sponsored summit in Annapolis.
Lieberman has that his trip to Europe is aimed at exchanging opinions on Israel's new policies and pushing for a planned upgrade in EU relations, which some officials in the bloc have threatened to put on hold.
Upgraded ties with the EU would give Israel better access to European markets, closer cooperation in areas such as energy, environment and battling crime and terrorism and more educational exchanges.
Last week, the EU's commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to endorse a Palestinian state and said the upgrade would depend on Israel's commitment to the two-state solution.
Israel warned the EU that such criticism endangered the bloc's role as broker in the peace process, and Lieberman said Monday that the upgrade must "not be connected to the other problems of the Middle East."
Following talks with Lieberman on Tuesday, Italian FM Frattini backed his Israeli counterpart on that point, saying that "it is in our common interest for Europe to have stronger ties with Israel so that Europe will be able to play a greater role" in the Middle East."
Under Berlusconi's conservative governments, Rome has become one of Israel's closest friends in Europe while maintaining good relations with the Arab world. Italy was among EU countries that recently joined the United States and Israel in boycotting a UN conference on racism in Geneva marred by anti-Semitic rhetoric.
As he kicked off his European tour, Lieberman skirted around the issue of a Palestinian state, putting him on a possible collision course with American and EU efforts for a solution to the conflict.
On his first day in Rome, Lieberman expressed commitment to the peace process but did not endorse the idea of a Palestinian state as sought by the United States and the European Union."
"This government's goal is not [to] produce slogans or make pompous declarations, but to reach concrete results," he said on Monday, when asked if he would ever endorse a Palestinian state.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Frattini, Lieberman said he was confident that Netanyahu's cabinet would "reach a secure and definitive peace with the Palestinians and the Arab nations around us."
Lieberman stressed the government was still drawing up its new foreign policy, which Netanyahu is expected to unveil before talks with President Barack Obama in mid-May.
Netanyahu has so far refused to endorse the idea of an independent Palestinian state - a cornerstone of the West's policy.
At the news conference, Frattini said: "I reminded Minister Lieberman that Europe and the United States agree on the importance of making peace our common goal."
Frattini did not comment directly on Lieberman's positions, but in an interview published on Sunday in Yedioth Aharonoth he said the peace process "must continue on the basis of the principle of two states for two peoples."
According to a translation of the interview provided by Italy's Foreign Ministry, Frattini also said he would ask Lieberman to "tone down his statements and act to create a climate of collaboration."
Lieberman on Monday also welcomed Pope Benedict XVI's forthcoming Mideast visit, saying he hoped it would help boost relations with moderate Arab countries and improve interfaith dialogue.
Benedict travels to the region May 8-15 in a pilgrimage that will take him to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.