Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, on Wednesday slammed the nuclear activities of North Korea and Iran as the biggest threat to the international community, but he avoided answering questions about his own country’s nuclear development.
Lieberman, in Tokyo for talks with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, said during a news conference that Japan and Israel are facing similar political issues, including territorial disputes and nuclear threats from neighboring countries.
“The biggest threat for both countries (is) from very radical regimes with nuclear capabilities or the desire to develop nuclear capabilities and missiles,” said Lieberman. “This axis of evil that includes North Korea and Syria and Iran is the biggest threat to the entire world.”
Lieberman expressed particularly strong concern about Iran, saying if it becomes a nuclear state, there would be a “crazy nuclear arms race” in the Gulf region.
He urged the U.N. Security Council to adopt strong sanctions against Tehran, but did not rule out the use of military force if they prove to be ineffective.
“Of course it’s our right to keep all options on the table, but we prefer to see strong sanctions, tough sanctions in the Security Council,” Lieberman said. “Tough sanctions can be very very efficient in the ways of how it was efficient . . . regarding Libya or even regarding North Korea.”
Referring to the seizure in Bangkok last December of an arms shipment from North Korea, he said huge numbers of different kinds of weapons were bound for the Hamas and Hezbollah militant groups.
But when some reporters brought up Israel’s nuclear program, asking whether his country is going to explain it to the international community or whether Israel would consider joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Lieberman avoided giving a straight answer, saying he can only respond to facts, not “rumors.”
The NPT currently has 190 members, including five nuclear states. While it is widely believed Israel possesses nuclear weapons, the country has never acknowledged this.
“Our intention is (to) keep ourself as a democratic and responsible country,” Lieberman said. “But as a country that is fighting every day to survive in this very difficult environment, you must understand that our problems and our everyday challenges are really different from all challenges that you can see here in Japan or Europe or North America.”
Lieberman met separately Monday with Hatoyama and Okada, who both welcomed the so-called proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians that started Sunday.
Hatoyama said he hopes both sides show sincerity.
Japan has been contributing to the Middle East peace process through the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” and Lieberman expressed gratitude for Japan’s financial aid to Palestinians that has exceeded $1 billion.
He said he was very sorry it took so long for the proximity talks, which are being mediated by the U.S. Middle East special envoy, George Mitchell, adding that it would be best if Israel and the Palestinians could hold direct talks without a mediator.
“I think it is impossible to impose peace — we can only create peace,” Lieberman said.