UNITED NATIONS - Downplaying the US-Israeli dispute over West Bank settlements, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared today that "settlements are not an obstacle to peace," and spoke positively about unconditional peace talks with the Palestinians and Israel's neighbors.
Responding to criticism about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech over the weekend, Lieberman disputed claims that Netanyahu's stipulations for a Palestinian state amounted to self-defeating preconditions or would ruffle ties with the United States.
"We have our position. We don't have any precondition," said Lieberman. "I think we have a right for our position. The Palestinians have right for their position. And what is important is to start talks without preconditions. And every side will try to convince the other side."
Lieberman said he spoke to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about, among other things, "Iran, about proliferation, about the threats that we see in our region." He warned against a "crazy nuclear arms race in all our region," calling it the "biggest threat."
Rush transcript is below:
Avigdor Lieberman, UN Security Council stakeout, 19 June 2009
We spoke about bilateral relations between Israel and the UN. We also spoke about regional problems, especially about Iran, about proliferation, about the threats that we see in our region. We really worry about crazy nuclear arms race in all our region. We think it's the biggest threat, not only for Israel but for the entire world. We also spoke about our relations with the Palestinians, about the last speech of the PM. We think that we have today good chance to start with dialogue with the Palestinians. As the Prime Minister said, we're ready to start with direct talks immediately, and it's necessary to create a positive dynamic between the two sides. And we will continue our cooperation with the UN, we'll continue our dialogue, and we're ready for peace talks, not only with the Palestinians but also the other countries in our region. Thank you.
Q. Why are you positive on meeting with Palestinians when you've put so many conditions? Also, when you met with Secretary Clinton she asked Israel to freeze settlements. You said no. Are you afraid this will impact US-Israel relations?
A. ... First of all, we have our position. We don't have any precondition. I think we have a right for our position. The Palestinians have right for their position. And what is important is to start talks without preconditions. And every side will try to convince the other side. Second point, regarding the settlements, I think ... settlements are not an obstacle to achieve peace. We know that even before '67, before we established one settlement, the situation was the same. During 19 years between '48 and '67, there was bloodshed, there was terror, there was friction. And the opposite was true. During the disengagement [of Gaza] ... we got in return Hamas in power in Gaza strip and Qassam missiles on S'derot. And it's very clear that it's not the settlements are not an obstacle, it's an excuse for those who try to avoid any peace talks.
Q. You say you disagree with settlements with Obama--
A. I don't say this.
Q. What about the other core issues?
A. ... We agree with the President's vision about regional peace. We agree on many points. And we have one dispute. I think it's a very natural that we, even with close friends, we have one disagreement, and I think that even in this point we can formulate understandings, we can achieve understandings. It's not the main issue in our region. ...