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Peres Expects New Peace Talks After Palestinian, Israeli Elections


Israeli senior statesman Shimon Peres says he believes talks on a permanent Middle East peace accord can resume soon after upcoming Israeli and Palestinian elections. Peres met Wednesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Veteran Israeli political figure Shimon Peres is expressing confidence that the new centrist Kadima party will not falter despite Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's debilitating illness.

He is predicting a shift to the political center in Israel in that country's March 28 elections that will give a new government a mandate to renew peace talks with the Palestinians.

Peres, a former Labor Party Prime Minister, shocked the Israeli political scene several weeks ago when he announced his defection to Mr. Sharon's new party. The move came before the massive stroke that may permanently end the Prime Minister's political career.

But in a talk with reporters after his meeting with Secretary Rice, Peres insisted that Kadima, being run in Mr. Sharon's absence by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is not a temporary phenomenon.

He said the legacy of Ariel Sharon is not just the withdrawal from Gaza but a realignment of Israeli politics toward the center: "After [former Prime Minister David] Ben Gurion, many parties in Israel moved to the corners - extreme right, extreme left, extreme religion, extreme anti-religion. Now we reassemble those forces to a positive center that will be capable to take decisions and decide about a real future for Israel," he said.

Mr. Peres said while the Palestinians are highly divided, he is hopeful there will be a similar convergence toward the moderate center after their elections January 25.

He said Mr. Sharon's peace-making strategy was Gaza-first, not Gaza-only, and that he expects Israel to be ready to resume direct talks with the Palestinians on implementing the international peace road map right away after elections are completed.

Peres said he and the Secretary of State also discussed Iran and its nuclear program, which he termed the greatest danger in our time.

He said despite Iranian threats against the Jewish state, Israel has opted for a secondary role in the campaign against the Iranian nuclear program, which he said would only increase as a threat if there is not international solidarity. "What is needed now is a united policy, otherwise the Iranians will make a mockery of every announced declaration by any party. And it looks like the West, even the Russians, are moving toward the same conclusion: to bring up the Iranian issue to the Security Council," he said.

Peres said there should be similar international opposition to Iran's long-range ballistic missile program.

He said no one in the world is threatening Iran, and the Tehran government should be made to explain why it needs missiles with ranges of up to three thousand kilometers.

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