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In L.A., Shimon Peres advocates patience for Iran sanctions

by Jonah Lowenfeld

March 8, 2012 | 9:55 pm

Israel's President Shimon Peres (right), is interviewed by Campbell Brown during an address to the Jewish community of Los Angeles held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on March 8. Photo by REUTERS/Phil McCarten.

In an evening characterized by optimism and not political disagreements, Israeli President Shimon Peres told an audience in Beverly Hills on March 8 that he saw broad agreement between the United States and Israel about what the immediate next steps should be regarding Iran.

“I don’t think anyone would suggest you start by shooting,” Peres told the over 1,000 Jews who gathered at the Beverly Hilton to welcome him on the first day of his four-day trip to Los Angeles.

Peres served three times as Israel’s Prime Minister before taking on the largely ceremonial post of president in 2007, and today he is both elder statesman and head of state. But if media coverage before and after his private meeting with President Obama on March 4 focused on how his message to the American leader might differ from what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be saying, Peres batted away any talk of a gap between the U.S. and Israel when it came to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“While everybody is looking for differences, the basis is common and agreed,” Peres said, noting that there was support around the world for the current regime of sanctions against Iran, and said they should be given time to work.

“If we have to choose, let’s start with the nonviolent, [with] no war beginning, but saying very clearly that all other options are on the table,” Peres said, sounding—at least in those general terms—very much like both Netanyahu and Obama.

For one hour, Peres answered gentle questions from TV reporter and anchor Campbell Brown. In his remarks, the 88-year-old Nobel Laureate painted in broad strokes his hopes for peace with the Palestinians, his optimistic predictions about the future of the Middle East and his vision for the future of the Jewish people in a rapidly changing world.

“The problem of the Middle East is poverty more than politics,” Peres said, noting that while the upheavals in the region over the last year might bring short-term tumult for Israel, the trend would eventually bring the Arab world into alignment with the rest of the world’s countries.

Peres received a very warm welcome from the crowd at the event, which was jointly sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Israeli Consulate, with help from various other groups.

Peres is the highest-profile Israeli official to visit Los Angeles on a standalone trip in at least a decade.

“Not only is he coming, but he’s coming for four days,” said Rabbi Lawrence J. Goldmark, executive vice president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, on Thursday. “We matter. It’s not just the Jews of New York.”

Los Angeles is the last stop for Peres on a nationwide tour. In New York City, he appeared on stage before a large audience for a conversation with Charlie Rose. In Washington, D.C., he met with President Obama and addressed the thousands who attended the American Israel Political Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. And on Wednesday, Peres was in the Bay Area, where he created his own Facebook page at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park. The social media company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was reportedly the first to “Like” the Israeli president’s page.

Story continues after the jump.

In the days leading up to Peres’s meeting with Obama, there was much speculation in the Israeli and U.S. media about what the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his work in concluding Oslo Accords would tell the man who was awarded the same prize in 2009 “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

In Los Angeles, Peres said that on the matter of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he trusted Obama’s assurances.

“I think the President made it clear that he will not compromise on the issue of Iran,” Peres said. “It’s a danger to all of the world, not just to Israel.”

The crowd on Thursday night included leaders of organizations spanning across the political and denominational spectrum, as well as many political dignitaries.

The evening’s edgiest moments came courtesy of Jason Alexander, who served as master of ceremonies. The actor cracked jokes about the security around the event, made a few crude gestures at the audience in a bit about Prime Minister Netanyahu and mocked his own hairpiece. 

Otherwise, those who introduced the Israeli president, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Israeli Consul General David Siegel, made it clear that the evening would not feature any hard-hitting questions or controversial statements.

“We are here tonight as one people, united in our support, of you Mr. President and of the State of Israel,” said Federation Chairman Richard Sandler.

So when Brown asked Peres what it meant for Americans to be “pro-Israel,” the Israeli president offered a comment about how the United States and Israel were both “promised lands.”

He did make a gentle dig at the audience, though.

“Half the Jewish people live in the United States,” he said.

“The smaller half,” he added, with a smile.

Peres’s itinerary in Los Angeles includes a visit to the DreamWorks Animation studio on Friday and a Sunday morning breakfast with Jewish and Latino leaders.

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