Israel: No greater threat to world than Iran leaders

UNITED NATIONS – The Israeli foreign minister on Wednesday warned that Iranian leaders pose the biggest threat to the world’s values because they “speak proudly” of their wish to destroy Israel and pursue weapons to achieve that objective.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the annual U.N. General Assembly session that the international community must stand up against Iran, which she claimed is pursuing the weapons to destroy Israel, a reference to its suspect nuclear program.

“There is no greater challenge to our values than that posed by the leaders of Iran,” Livni said. “They deny and mock the Holocaust. They speak proudly and openly of their desire to wipe Israel off the map. And now, by their actions, they pursue the weapons to achieve this objective, to imperil the region and to threaten the world.”

She said Iran’s support of the Islamic militant group Hezbollah in south Lebanon showed the threat it poses to the region. The world must ensure that it enforces the U.N. Security Council resolution that ended more than a month of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Livni said.

“There is no place for such a regime in the family of nations,” she said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said in the past he wants to wipe Israel off the map and dismissed the Holocaust as a myth. In his own speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Ahmadinejad said Israel was created by driving millions of people from territory that was rightfully theirs, something he called “a great tragedy with hardly a precedent in history.”

He also harshly criticized Israel’s policies, saying the country was a source of insecurity in the Middle East that was “waging war and spilling blood and impeding the progress of regional countries.”

While Livni spoke, a lone Iranian diplomat sat in the back row of the section of six seats reserved for the Islamic republic in the General Assembly hall. After her speech ended, the diplomat moved up to the front row to listen to the following official, from Belgium.

Livni struck a more conciliatory tone toward the Palestinians, saying the two did not necessarily have to remain at odds and the only way to resolve their conflict was at the “bilateral negotiating table.”

“We have no illusions about the difficulties before us _ we must face them and not ignore them,” she said.

Livni met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the U.N. a day before the General Assembly session began, and both described the meeting as positive. In her speech, she reiterated their desire to reopen a serious dialogue, including with the creation of a permanent channel “to pursue ways to advance together.”

On the sidelines of the summit on Wednesday, President Bush called Abbas a “man of courage” for trying to revive Mideast peace talks despite a continued political stalemate with Hamas militants. Abbas has been weakened since January when Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, won the Palestinian elections.

Prospects for a return to active peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have looked dim this year, partly because the political upheaval in both governments kept leaders’ attention focused inward.

Israel has new leadership too as Ariel Sharon remains incapacitated after his sudden massive stroke on Jan. 4. The new prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is on the defensive at home because of widespread dissatisfaction with the conduct and outcome of Israel’s summer war against Hezbollah

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