Israel: Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- As Israeli diplomats departed for Russia on Tuesday to discuss deep concerns about Iran's nuclear facilities, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the Jewish state cannot allow Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons under any circumstances.
Iran's Islamic government recently broke seals on its nuclear facilities and said it will resume research for civilian nuclear power purposes. International leaders fear Iran will use its nuclear technology to develop weapons.
"Under no circumstances, and at no point, can Israel allow anyone with these kinds of malicious designs against us [to] have control of weapons of destruction that can threaten our existence," Olmert said at a Tuesday news conference.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked widespread international condemnation in October when he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
Israeli officials have said they hope to use diplomacy to diffuse any possible nuclear crisis with Iran, and only to use military force as a last resort. An Israeli attack ordered by Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1981 destroyed a nuclear reactor in Iraq.
Olmert is acting as Israel's leader as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains hospitalized in a coma following a massive stroke January 4. Medical experts have said it is unlikely that he will be able to return to his duties, even if he survives. (Full story)
Israeli conservative Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, a possible political rival of Olmert's, said this month that Iranian nuclear weapons would be "dangerous to Israel and dangerous, in fact, to the world. And I think we have to find ways -- which could include diplomatic and other ways -- to prevent that from happening."
President Bush, after discussing the situation Friday during a White House meeting with Germany's newly elected chancellor, said, "The current president of Iran has announced that the destruction of Israel is an important part of their agenda, and that's unacceptable. And the development of a nuclear weapon, it seems like to me, would make him a step closer to achieving that objective."
Iran's announcement that it would restart its nuclear program has prompted Britain, France and Germany to call for an emergency meeting next month of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran had been following a two-year suspension while it conducted talks with the European countries. (Full story)
Sharon's stroke has changed the political landscape of the Mideast, with elections set for the Palestinian legislature next week and Israeli's parliament on March 28.
Olmert, who was named interim leader of Kadima in place of Sharon, said he hoped to resume peace talks with the Palestinians following the Israeli elections.
Olmert said the Palestinian Authority must disarm terrorist groups as condition for a permanent peace agreement.
The Islamic fundamentalist Palestinian group Hamas, which advocates the destruction of Israel, is expected to be the major challenger to the ruling Fatah Party in the upcoming Palestinian Authority legislative elections.
On the issue of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, Olmert said that Israel will not allow "lawlessness" to continue in Hebron and said that settlers who violate the law will be dealt with "harshly."
Israeli troops have battled rioters for the past four days in the Jewish enclave in Hebron. Rioters have tried to prevent Israeli troops from carrying out a court order to evacuate eight Jewish families who have been squatting in the city's wholesale market.
Israel Defense Forces have declared the Jewish settlement in Hebron a "closed military zone" and have set up road blocks around the Hebron to prevent protesters from entering the city.
Last week, Olmert worked quietly behind the scenes to consolidate the leadership of Kadima, the new centrist party that Sharon founded after leaving the right-wing Likud party he had belonged to for more than 30 years.
Recent polls show that if elections were held now with an ailing Sharon, Kadima would win the majority of seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The polls predicted that Kadima would control more seats than the left-wing Labor Party, headed by Amir Peretz, and Likud.
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