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. Peres vows firm Iran stance amid unease over Obama policy
WASHINGTON, May 4 (AFP) May 04, 2009
Israeli President Shimon Peres vowed Monday that Israel will not yield to Iran's nuclear threat as he prepared to meet US President Barack Obama, who has stirred unease with his policies toward Iran.

Peres, who will be the first top Israeli to meet Obama since the US president's inauguration, also voiced hope for peace with the Palestinians and other Arabs before his talks at the White House on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately the Middle East finds itself in the shadow of a nuclear threat. We shall not give up. We shall not surrender," Peres told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby.

His tough talk on Iran drew cheers and applause at the annual policy conference of AIPAC, which is pushing for a tougher US stance on Iran.

"Historically, Iran sought to enrich mankind. Today, alas, Iran's rulers want to enrich uranium. What for?" he asked, referring to fears it aimed to produce an atomic bomb.

"In addition to their nuclear option, they invest huge capital in long-range missiles."

He also warned of the threat to peace in the region through Iran's support of anti-Israeli groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Peres, whose post is mostly ceremonial, did not go into specifics about countering the Iranian threat.

But, at a time when the Obama administration seeks to engage diplomatically with the Islamic Republic, which has vowed to destroy Israel, AIPAC is lobbying for new US legislation unveiled last week.

The bill looks to tighten the screws on Tehran, which imports about 40 percent of its gasoline, by targeting firms that finance gasoline exports to Iran, or either ship or insure the exports.

Iran has continued its efforts to enrich uranium despite three sets of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked generally last month of "very tough" sanctions against Iran if it rebuffs the new US approach.

Robert Satloff, an analyst who joined an AIPAC panel on Sunday, warned of "the potential for a deep disagreement between the US and Israel governments over how to really deal with a nuclear Iran," according to an AIPAC video.

"If not handled properly," the head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said, the issue could produce "the most tense face-to-face disagreement between the United States and Israel in the past 61 years."

Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller, who has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, expected Peres to "be candid about the severity of the threat from Iran" when he meets Obama.

Peres meanwhile vowed to pursue peace talks with the Palestinians and Arabs from a position of strength.

The veteran Israeli leader said he will deliver to Obama "a strong message for a country yearning for peace," adding: "Today there is a chance for real peace."

The Nobel Peace laureate will also become the first Israeli leader to meet Obama since Benjamin Netanyahu, who has taken a harder line on the Palestinians than Peres, was elected prime minister of Israel in February.

Obama has invited Netanyahu as well as the Palestinian and Egyptian leaders to Washington within the coming weeks. A White House official said the meetings would probably occur before Obama travels to France on June 6.

Netanyahu has so far refused to publicly endorse the creation of a Palestinian state, and has insisted on centering efforts on strengthening the West Bank economy before engaging in final status negotiations.

The Obama administration remains however focused on a two-state solution and continuing the peace talks.

Israel's firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has also sparked concern by declaring last month that the Jewish state was not bound by the US-backed 2007 agreement that relaunched peace talks.

But Peres said: "The present government of Israel will abide by the commitments of the previous governments of Israel."

AIPAC officials said it was not unusual for Obama and Clinton, who both attended the policy conference as presidential candidates last year, to be absent from this year's gathering.

They said US presidents have only spoken to the policy conference four times in all and noted that Vice President Joe Biden will attend Tuesday.

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