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Sharon: Coalition should 'put pressure upon Iran'

Sharon: "We have evidence that Iran makes a reactor to possess nuclear weapons."
Ariel Sharon

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke Wednesday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer about Iran and the "road map" to Mideast peace.

BLITZER: Welcome back, everyone. And welcome our viewers from CNN International as well. We're here at Blair House, the official residence of foreign guests, across the street from the White House. And joining us now, the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to Washington, thanks very much for joining us.

SHARON: I'm glad to be here.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iran. This is an important subject. The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said there's no evidence that Iran is building a nuclear bomb. Do you have hard evidence ... that Iran is doing so?

SHARON: We have evidence that Iran makes a reactor to possess nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: How long would it take, in your opinion, in your intelligence estimate, for Iran to get to what's called the point of no return?

SHARON: I think the point of no return should be judged by technical issues. I would say the point of no return depends upon the ability of the Iranians to solve some technical issues. And once they will solve it, I think that would be the point of no return.

BLITZER: How long do you estimate that will be?

SHARON: I don't know. I don't think it's too long. I would say in order to possess a bomb, that will take them time. But the problem now is entirely different. They have some problems. In order to overcome them, they are making every effort. No doubt that they are working now in order to possess a nuclear weapon, which we regard to be a great danger not only for Israel but for Europe and for the United States.

BLITZER: Do you think that point of no return is months away or years away?

SHARON: Because I speak about technical issues that should be solved, I don't think it's a matter of years. I'd say to have a bomb, that might take years. But to solve these problems ... I believe that can be much shorter.

BLITZER: So in other words there are only a few months left, is that what you're saying?

SHARON: I'm saying in order to solve those technical issues, ... it's hard to say how long it would because these are technical issues. But that, I believe, from that point and on it will [be] much easier for them. And though it might take, of course, several years to have a bomb, but they are making every effort to possess a bomb.

BLITZER: Did you present what you regard as hard evidence, new intelligence, to President Bush the other day when you met with him in Crawford, Texas, that would indicate Iran is closer to building a bomb than the U.S. government might suspect?

SHARON: I think that's about building a bomb, it will take time, but those issues are creating a major concern now. Of course, we discussed issues and Middle Eastern issues, and I discussed that with President Bush and Vice President [Dick] Cheney.

BLITZER: But was there tension on this issue of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, between your government and the Bush administration?

SHARON: I think that we are cooperating ... and [exchanging] information about that. And altogether I think we worry about that. I believe that the president will understand the danger of Iran [possessing] nuclear weapons. Of course, [we] worry about that, and I think that we have to continue to watch the development there. And I think that we have to make the preparations to bring Iran to the Security Council.

We are seeing there are steps taken there, in Europe and so on, but I think that the Iranians should be limited in time and should -- all preparation should be done in order to be able to create a major pressure. I think those that expect changes in Iran, internal changes, should also understand that in order that there might changes there, it depends very much upon the pressure that we'll put upon Iran.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers will remember in 1981, when Israel unilaterally bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. Are you considering -- let me rephrase the question, at what point would Israel take unilateral military action to try to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb?

SHARON: I remember, of course, that raid in Iraq and was always proud to [have been] a member of the inner Cabinet ... I think that decision then has saved many lives. Just imagine what could have happened if Iraq would have had -- Iraq under Saddam Hussein -- would have had atomic weapons.

I think that here the situation is different. And the problem is different and much wider. And I think that here it should be a coalition of democracies who believe in the danger, led by United States, in order to put pressure upon Iran.

BLITZER: Have you ruled out a unilateral military strike against Iran?

SHARON: We don't think that's what we have to do. We're not going to solve the problems for nobody. And then the thing that -- I'd say the danger is so great that it should be an international effort. Altogether, I would like you to know that Israel is not leading the struggle. Of course we exchange intelligence. We exchange views, we discuss these issues, but it's not that we are planning any military attack on Iran.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some other issues. The settlements on the West Bank, supposedly a source of contention between the Bush administration and the Israeli government. Will your government authorize the construction of 3,500 new housing units in the West Bank at Ma'aleh Adumim, a settlement outside of Jerusalem.

SHARON: First, I think that the noise about this issue may be partially coming from the Israeli side. ... but the Israeli position [is] that Ma'aleh Adumim is one of the major blocs, that [is] the way we see it, and that's in accordance ... to the letter of President Bush that I got on the 14th of April 2004 where he talked about the major blocs of Jewish population, the realities that were established there.

So Ma'aleh Adumim is one of those blocs.

BLITZER: Did the president ask you not to go ahead and expand that existing settlement. Did he ask you to stop the construction?

SHARON: I don't think that that was the purpose of my visit there, and altogether I think the president repeated what we have said, that we have to look at the road map and to act upon the road map because he's ...

BLITZER: But he says, the president -- excuse me for interrupting -- the president says the road map calls for a freeze of settlement activity, including what's called "natural growth," standing, existing settlements.

SHARON: I believe that this issue will be discussed also again in the future. We have been discussing those issues. And I believe that Israel understands its commitment. And I believe that there will be discussion on these issues also in the future. But as about Ma'aleh Adumim, no doubt that's one of the major blocs, and according to the Israeli position, it will be a part of Israel in the future, and it should be contiguity between this town and Jerusalem.

BLITZER: So I take it you have authorized the construction of 3,500 additional housing units.

SHARON: No, we have not discussed it ... It's an old plan, 10 years old, passing through all the various bureaucratic steps. And that is not what we're doing.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the withdrawal from Gaza. In the early '80s, when you oversaw the withdrawal from Jewish settlements in Sinai ... you bulldozed those housing units, basically the whole place. Are you going to leave the houses of the 8,000 Jewish settlers in Gaza intact, or will you destroy them as you evacuate?

SHARON: I will say my position and I believe it will be the government, to remove synagogues and the cemeteries to Israel, but to try and leave the buildings there intact. That, of course, needs cooperation between us and the Palestinians ... due to some conflict inside the Palestinian Authority, we have not started yet to deal with that. But I'll make every effort to leave these buildings intact.

BLITZER: Mr. prime minister, there are reports that some Israeli soldiers, perhaps more than just some, will refuse to obey orders and participate in the evacuation, the removal of Jewish settlers from Gaza.

How concerned are you about that?

SHARON: I believe, first, that if they are going to be, there will be very few. And I mentioned the atmosphere in Israel, I would say the atmosphere is an atmosphere that looks like an eve of a civil war. But I can tell you that, I'm going to take every step in order that things like that will not happen.

BLITZER: When you say a civil war you mean Israeli Jews fighting Israeli Jews ... So the notion of a civil war really erupting in Israel, is that a concern that you have?

SHARON: I would say, as I mentioned and I spoke about an atmosphere which is, there is a terrible incitement, and I can assure you one thing, that I'm going to take every step in order to avoid it.

BLITZER: We are all out of time, but I'll leave the interview with one final question where we started the interview -- Iran. The Iranians say that Israel already has a nuclear bomb, so what's wrong with their going ahead and building a nuclear bomb, even though they deny they're doing that?

SHARON: I think that Israel made it very clear for years that was our policy, and we said very clearly that Israel will not be the first one, I will say, to use or to possess nuclear weapon. And altogether, I think that it should be -- and I remember talking with President Bush, with whom I have close relations and I'd say deep friendship, and he understand the dangers of world terror. He understood the danger of Iraq possessing a nuclear weapon. Remember, I said one thing: One should avoid having or developing nuclear weapons by what I called irresponsible countries.

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