Israeli President Shimon Peres said Monday that Iran's nuclear program poses a growing threat to world peace as Iranian leaders use terrorism and religion to pursue imperialist ambitions.
In an interview with NPR, Peres said Iran wants to spread its brand of Muslim extremism to Arab countries, creating a threat of nuclear-armed terrorists that could destabilize governments all over the world.
"Iran is not a problem just for Israel, it's a world problem," Peres told Robert Siegel. "I think the combination of fanatic religion, of enriched uranium, of active terror may make the world ungovernable, because the minute that the enriched uranium will come to the pockets of the terrorist, nobody will be safe."
The Israeli leader was in Washington, D.C., to address the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group. In his speech, Peres said the world faces a double threat — from terrorist extremists and Iran.
He said Iran is investing in long-range missiles and supports militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas with weapons and money in an effort to spread terrorism.
Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly called for Israel to be wiped off the map, and Iran's nuclear program has set world leaders on edge. Ahmadinejad has said that the program has peaceful goals.
Peres, who is scheduled to meet with President Obama on Tuesday, told NPR that he believes Obama is taking the Iranian threat seriously, but wants to engage Iran before using sanctions to force an end to Iran's nuclear program.
The Israeli leader underscored his belief that Israel's friendship with the United States is strong, and said Israel remains "a loyal partner."
But a new poll released on the eve of the leaders' meeting suggests that most Israelis favor stopping Iran's nuclear program — even if it means Israel must launch an attack without U.S. approval. The poll of 610 people was conducted last week by Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and the Anti-Defamation League, a U.S.-based Jewish advocacy group.
Peres also said that Israel's new hawkish government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, wants to work for peace. Although Netanyahu has not mentioned creation of a Palestinian state, the prime minister has committed to honoring agreements made by previous Israeli leaders, Peres said.
Netanyahu, he noted, also has asserted that Israel doesn't want to rule over Palestinians and is willing to negotiate.
From NPR staff and wire reports.