Middle East News
Brown: Britain ready to lead tougher sanctions against Iran (2nd Lead)
Jul 21, 2008, 11:06 GMT
Jerusalem - Britain is ready to take a lead role in pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday in an historic address before Israel's parliament.
'We stand ready to lead in taking firmer sanctions and ask the whole international community to join us,' Brown said in a speech which voiced strong support for Israel and was the first by a British prime minister to the Knesset.
'Iran now has a clear choice to make: suspend its nuclear programme and accept our offer of negotiations, or face growing isolation and the collective response, not just of one nation, but of all nations,' he added.
Both he and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert touched on their respective countries' ambivalent early relationship, with Olmert pointing out Britain and Israel had had 'difficult disagreements' on the eve of, during and shortly after World War II, when London administered historic Palestine under a United Nations mandate.
The British mandate imposed 'severe restrictions' on Jewish immigrants, who were fleeing the 'horrors of the Holocaust,' Olmert said.
But Israelis would also never forget that it was Britain, in an 'historic' 1917 declaration by the foreign secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, which first recognized the right of the Jewish people to establish a 'national home' in Palestine, Olmert said.
The 'residue of the past has disappeared,' he said, adding 'warm, tight and friendly' relations had taken its place.
Olmert praised Britain's 'tough stance' in the global struggle against terrorism.
Israel could not reconcile with an Iran that had nuclear weapons, he said. 'From our point of view, we are talking about an intolerable situation.' Iran was not just a menace for Israel, but a 'global threat.'
Olmert reiterated there were 'still profound disagreements' in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. But he said these were 'bridgeable.' On his news conference with Brown Sunday, he had said the sides were 'closer than ever' to a written agreement and that he still believed the sides could 'overcome' their disagreements 'within the timeframe' set for the negotiations, or before the end of 2008.
'For those who mistakenly and outrageously call for the end of Israel, let the message be: Britain will always stand firmly by Israel's side,' Brown said, adding it was 'totally abhorrent' for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to call for Israel to be wiped off the map.
'To those who question Israel's right to exist and threaten the lives of its citizens through terror, we say that the people of Israel have a right to live here in freedom and security.'
To loud applause, he also said the British government stood 'full square' against any academic or other boycotts against Israel.
But he also urged Israel to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and remove obstacles for Palestinian economic growth, including by reopening the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in East Jerusalem.
Israel has shut down many Palestinian insitutions in East Jerusalem, because it does not recognize Palestinian political activity in the occupied eastern section of the disputed city. Brown however openly said Jerusalem should be the capital of both Israel and the future Palestinian state.
The negotiations launched between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at an international conference in Annapolis, Maryland late last year had opened up an 'historic' opportunity. 'Peace is within your grasp,' he said.
Brown and his wife Sarah received a red-carpet welcome at the Knesset, where he was greeted by Speaker Dalia Itzik, an honour guard and a military orchestra playing the British and Israeli national anthems.
He is the first British prime minister to address the Knesset.
Also on the occasion of Israel's 60th anniversary, German Chancellor Angela Merkel in March became the first foreign head of government to speak before the Israeli legislature.
Until then, only heads of state, including most notably former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1977, had spoken in the Knesset plenum.
Since Merkel, also US President George W Bush in May and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in June have made Knesset addresses, and others are expected to follow throughout the jubilee year.
On Sunday, Brown had praised Israel as a 'remarkable success story.'
Meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem Sunday, he pledged additional financial assistance and support for Abbas' West Bank administration
The British prime minister was on Monday afternoon scheduled to wrap up his first visit to the region since he took office a year ago.