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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 January 2006, 11:06 GMT
Israeli governance
On Sunday 08 January 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed Shimon Peres, former Israeli Prime Minister

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister

ANDREW MARR: The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, remains critically ill, we're told, in hospital this morning, four days after that massive stroke which ended his political career and plunged the Middle East into even greater uncertainty.

Ariel Sharon was called the bulldozer, not just because of his size but because of his hardline attitude towards the Palestinians, who regarded him as a war criminal.

But his decision to end the Israeli occupation of Gaza, which was also ruthlessly enforced, raised hopes that perhaps he was the one man who could lead his country to a lasting peace with its neighbours.

Now just before we came on air, I spoke to one of the great figures of Israeli politics, Shimon Peres, the former Labour prime minister, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and I began by asking him if the new party founded by Ariel Sharon, called Kadima, would survive without the bulldozer at the helm.

SHIMON PERES: I think so, yes. I think it can survive and it can, I think they can thrive in the coming elections because Sharon has founded the other party but he also introduced an idea. This is a departure from the extreme right, from the extreme left, an attempt to gather all the forces who are for peace with a clear attempt to create a majority for peace and, while fighting terror, not to postpone the negotiations after Gaza concerning the West Bank.

ANDREW MARR: Now you are your country's elder statesman now. I wonder whether there is any possibility of you returning to Labour or will you remain with Kadima and do you see yourself under any circumstances leading the new party?

SHIMON PERES: I don't negotiate any return to the Labour. I don't have in mind to suggest myself as the leader of the party. What leads me is not an attempt to become a leader but what leads me is really to contribute to the peace process, which is, in my judgement, the most important single issue before us.

ANDREW MARR: And Mr Ehud Olmert, now the acting prime minister, do you believe that he will become the next prime minister after the elections?

SHIMON PERES: If there will be a need for, yes. Because Mr Olmert was nominated to be acting prime minister when Sharon was running the government, personally. Sharon did it with my consent, I think it's a reasonable choice, I think he has experience and the capacity to do so and I shall support him.

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to the peace process if we may. Mr Sharon was seen by many Palestinians, frankly, as a war criminal; he was somebody they feared and hated and yet he had made this extraordinary turn in the last few years towards the peace process. Do you think that his removal from the political scene causes some kind of crisis with the Palestinians?

SHIMON PERES: No I think that the Palestinians has to negotiate with us as we are and we have to negotiate with them as they are. They cannot change neither us nor our leaders, so we cannot change them or their leaders. But we pray that their leadership will become effective and they will not let some dissident organisations, violent organisations, to destroy the fabric of their nation and the destiny of their future.

ANDREW MARR: How do you think that history is going to regard Mr Sharon, because it is an extraordinary career and it's got some highs and it's got some lows?

SHIMON PERES: I think by the highs, because lows some of us are having but very few have had the occasion to do things which are really supreme and historic and Sharon is one of them.

ANDREW MARR: Looking ahead to the immediate future, it has been reported here in London that there have been serious discussions in Israel about a pre-emptive military strike on Iran if they proceed with their nuclear ambitions. Can you throw any light on that?

SHIMON PERES: Iran is a danger to the entire world. Israel will not monopolise the danger of Iran. I think the international community in whatever places must take a very serious attempt to stop Iran from producing a nuclear bomb and from developing long range missiles, about 2000, 3000 miles, and endanger everybody who is not being liked by the Ayatollahs to become a victim of their crazy policies.

ANDREW MARR: There have been negotiations going on with Tehran, forever, about this and so far they haven't got anywhere. If the international community is unable to stop Tehran developing a nuclear bomb, will Israel act in a military sense first?

SHIMON PERES: No I think what really should happen is that the international community should unite. The Iranians are playing with the international community because they feel that it's a divided community and it doesn't have a clear policy so they use the division to their benefit. But the most urgent thing is to bring the international community, the Atlantic Organisation, to full agreement about the necessary steps that should be taken against Iran. We cannot be a replacement for it.

ANDREW MARR: Do you know of any talks with your own military about a pre-emptive strike?

SHIMON PERES: No I, it's not in our offing and I'm not aware of any suggestion of this nature by anybody.

ANDREW MARR: And what about the use of kidnapping? We're seeing a huge amount of coverage, of course, for domestic British political reasons about what's going on in Gaza, do you think the Palestinian people are able to get a grip on this problem?

SHIMON PERES: They have to. You know, we left Gaza in order not to return there. They are trying to force us back. They are crazy, what they are doing. And I do hope that the Palestinian Authority will mobilise all its strengths and bring an end to it. They have to show that they are capable to govern, and to introduce law and order and safeguard the land and save the security of the people. They cannot escape it.

ANDREW MARR: Shimon Peres, thank you very much.

SHIMON PERES: Thank you very much, I want to say the country is strong, we have many difficulties, it's true, but out of my own experience and feeling we shall manage it and we shall bring hope to ourselves and to our neighbours - and a happy New Year.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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