WASHINGTON – Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) suggested Wednesday it's just a matter of time before Iran develops nuclear weapons.
In an exclusive interview with FOX News' Jennifer Griffin, Sharon probably spoke more than ever before on Israel's concerns about Iran's nuclear progress. He said Iran simply has to overcome a few technical difficulties to be well on its way to becoming a nuclear power.
Following is a transcript of the complete interview:
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. How bad would it be for Iran to get a nuclear bomb?
ARIEL SHARON, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Well, I think that that's great danger, and believe that the free world, led by the United States, should take — put pressure on the states, to put pressure upon Iran and not to enable them to produce nuclear weapons.
No doubt that their main thought is to possess nuclear weapons. And Iran is a very big country, and you can hide everything there. But we know, and I believe the United States knows that they're working. They're working secretly, but they're working. (INAUDIBLE) is a result of more monitoring (INAUDIBLE), it will take a bit longer time, but they work.
And I regard it to be maybe the greatest danger not only for Israel but for the Middle East and (INAUDIBLE) also for Europe and for American interests and the interests of the United States itself.
There is an increasing the danger no doubt when it come to Israel when we hear what they say, even the so-called moderates. Their moderation is very far from our values. So but — when they state that their goal and target is to eliminate the state of Israel and the Jewish people, that, of course, (INAUDIBLE) no affect — life goes on, and they're members of (INAUDIBLE) the United Nations, participate in all the receptions, everything. Nobody seems worried about it.
But what they say about their big plan for Israel, but the information is not our — it's not our problem. We are not leading the anti-Iranian struggle. Of course, we watched it. We know the dangers that increased. But we are not there to lead the struggle.
QUESTION: But what are the Israeli intelligence estimates at this point in time as to how long before Iran gets a nuclear weapon?
SHARON: I think that the question (UNITELLIGIBLE) to declare the point of no return. That's — it's not to say that they or I know when they will have a nuclear weapon. I think the issue, the most important part of the issue, how they will be able to overcome the technical problems that they are having. Once they will solve their technical problems, then I think the situation will deteriorate. And I would say then, it doesn't make any difference if we take another year or another few years. We are still ready to solve the problem. That is the problem. And they're making, I would say, a major effort to overcome these problems. They've said that they had support. In the past, they got support from Russia. So the Russians now more careful about it. They got support in the past from China. And they got, of course, support from North Korea.
And therefore, I think, that the free world, led by the United States, should make a very clear time table that if they will not react positively, they have to be brought to the Security Council. And I think that steps should be taken against them, pressure, political pressure, economic pressure. And maybe the only possibility that there will be a change inside Iran, that may occur only as a result of pressure put on Iran. And I therefore think that all the steps should be taken in order to prepare taking them to Security Council.
QUESTION: Are we talking a matter of months before they get a nuclear weapon?
SHARON: No. That's not the — problem is not when they're going to get the weapons, because it will take them time. The problem is, when are they going to solve their technical problems?
QUESTION: Which technical problems?
SHARON: Well, they have many technical problems, but they are working and is not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to take it very, seriously. And I don't see any situation they will decide — will decide one day to stop it. Even if it will be that a more moderate or what they call moderate — very far from what we think about moderation — even then, I believe that they will continue to make this effort.
QUESTION: Does Israel have the military capability to stop Iran?
QUESTION: Does Israel?
SHARON: As I said before, Israel is not leading this struggle. And though I hear from time to time that (INAUDIBLE) we're planning to hit Iran, that's what we think about? Of course we take all the precautions and all the steps to defend ourselves. But it's not that Israel should give the answer to this international problem.
QUESTION: But if you had to, does Israel have the military capability to carry out an Osirak-like mission?
SHARON: I would say, we have done it in the past. We managed to destroy many years ago, and I was on the board, being a member of the inner cabinet, was one of the — I'd say I was active in receiving that resolution then. It was a very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) thing that Israel has done. And I think that they were being criticized so deeply then. I think that Israel, by taking this step, managed to managed to avoid, I would say, the most terrible disaster later.
But I don't think that that we have done then, it doesn't mean that — we have the capability to do things; no doubt about that. But that's not our plans. At least we are not going to — are not planning to do that.
We believe that could be dangerous, dangerous the world. I think that the United States is being very active. And I believe that — in any case, that's what I've learned. I knew that before, because we are cooperating on this issue, intelligence. And so, I believe that the United States is the only country that can lead such a coalition in order to put pressures on Iran.
QUESTION: In fact, you shared certain intelligence with President Bush when you met him the other day about Iran's nuclear capabilities. Can you tell us about those satellite photos and what they showed?
SHARON: You'll have to go to — I was talking with President Bush. Look, altogether, it was a very good visit, I think, a very friendly visit. We discussed many issues from the cattle in the field to the ox.
QUESTION: But in terms of —
SHARON: And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) very much being a farmer myself —
QUESTION: I know.
SHARON: I was born on the farm. Yes, of course I enjoyed seeing the (INAUDIBLE) and a bit of the ranch and the cattle.
QUESTION: But in terms of the satellite...
SHARON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Black Angus and other kinds there. Of course we discussed those issues referring to the situation in the Middle East and — but I believe it would be better if we not discuss everything that had been said there.
QUESTION: But in terms of the intelligence that Israel has right now with regards to Iran, is there something that Israel can share with the United States? Israel is a small country. Did you share concerns about Iran?
SHARON: I think that Israel is in a very good level of cooperations, strategic cooperation, exchanging — exchanging intelligence and so on, and I believe that no side here can complain about that. I think it's very deep, very deep cooperation and a very positive one. And no doubt it will continue to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
So I might say again, Israel is not leading the struggle. We are not heading the struggle. We made contact — close contact with, of course, the United States, the White House and with the European countries, watching the developments. And of course, we think, what are the steps that should be taken in order to try and stop it.
I regard that Iran having a nuclear weapon is not only a danger for Israel, a (INAUDIBLE) danger for Israel, but also for the Middle East. And when I see the ballistic missiles that they are developing, it becomes a problem also for Europe and for American interests and even the United States.
QUESTION: But Israel has never relied on Europe for its own defense. And if you're talking about sanctions, Iran has dealt with sanctions in the past, and yet, sanctions will not stop it from achieving a nuclear weapon.
If Israel is left with a choice of protecting Jews and preventing another Holocaust, will you let Iran get the bomb or will you act militarily?
SHARON: I've said we believe that that is a great danger, and we can only repeat and say that Israel is not leading the struggle. We are a country and a nation that face I'd say maybe the greatest danger here,. But we believe that for the interests of the free world, should be lead by the United States. I would say an international activity, international coalition should be formed, and steps should be taken. And I think that free world should prepare itself to bring the issue to the Security Council, once, of course, if the Iranians will continue and do not take those warnings seriously. Of course it shall be not an easy thing to do, all those countries, there are so many interests, economic interests, other interests. But I believe that it might not be official pressure on Iran, and that also might bring the changes, because I know that people are expecting there will be internal changes in Iran. I think that can happen only if we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pressure.
QUESTION: And if the Bushehr nuclear reactor goes on-line, do you — does Israel consider that a red line that would be crossed by Iran? Is that a red line for you?
SHARON: I think that the red line is being able to overcome some technical problems they are having. Once they solve that, it's only a matter of time as they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but they would be able — that would become the danger. So the red line — I would refer to that line if they managed to solve some of the problems they are facing now.
QUESTION: Does American intelligence, does Israeli intelligence know about all of the Iranian nuclear facilities, or are there some that you feel that we don't know about?
SHARON: I believe that total we do know. And to say that somebody can know every detail about everything, that, let us say, I think that's hard to say. But altogether, I think we have right picture of what is happening. And I think that cooperation between the United States and Israel provides what is really necessary. We are not going to be surprised with the development there. We will watch those developments.
QUESTION: Have you called for all construction in Ma'ale Adumim and in other settlements in the West Bank and Gaza to be halted?
SHARON: We, as you know, are committed to the road map. There will be enough in the phase of the road map now — we are in the phase of pre — I'd say pre-road map stage. And I think all these things that are very clearly — appear there the way that we deal with the issue.
That's about — you mentioned the Ma'ale Adumim, and you should know the place. It's a beautiful place there.
QUESTION: I've been there last week.
SHARON: Facing the Judea Desert and the mountains of (UNINTELLIBLE) and Jordan and the Dead Sea. Ma'ale Adumim is one of the major Jewish centers with probably around maybe now over 50,000 people living there. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that's one of those major blocs that the president himself referred in his letter to me on the 14th of April last year, and they, no doubt, have taken considerations, the reality of the area, in Ma'ale Adumim, like some other central or major blocs of population. That is our position, that they would be integral parts of the state of Israel and with contiguity to Israel itself.
And that — of course, this is our position, and the president himself, as I'm sure you know in the letter that he sent and the approval of the Congress says very clearly that one cannot ignore the facts or the realities that happened since the Six Day War, and that these is issues or these facts should be taken into consideration once we have talking to the Palestinians.
When we've been negotiating these things, it is clear that they, of course, create a situation, Israel will not be able to return to the lines of the '49 ceasefire lines or what usually is called the '67 border. And that will affect the borders, and these are the realities that happened.
QUESTION: But the president agreed to settlement blocs as they are, the realities on the ground as they are. You are talking about expanding Ma'ale Adumim, or practically doubling it so that it connects to Jerusalem. That's an expansion. That's not allowed under the road map. How do you reconcile this contradiction?
SHARON: Well, look, I believe that first of all, it's very important. I'll say this bloc is very important, and they cannot be isolated or not in their real contiguity with Jerusalem. And our position is that the major blocs will be integral parts of Israel and they are going to be — they will have a contiguity with Israel.
And as a matter of fact, I don't think that that interferes — although some say that it is public knowledge that its is going to cut the northern parts of the Palestinian — maybe the future state with the southern parts. It's not going to cut anything, with free crossing, let's say, from the northern side to the southern, and that it would say, in other words, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) through Jerusalem. But we are saying, they are not going to be cut. And that it's not only the Palestinians that are having the need of contiguity, I'd say it's the Israeli needs of contiguity are not less important.
Lastly, when they can live together, let's say there's no — we're not going to cut or, say, prevent traffic — free traffic from the northern part of the West Bank to the southern part.
QUESTION: But ultimately, in effect, is your strategy to encircle Jerusalem with these settlement blocs in order to not have to divide it down the road?
SHARON: I'm sure, you know, our position about Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the holiest place for the Jewish people. It seems maybe even earlier, but this dates to the date when King David made Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish people — that it actually took place 3,007 years ago, after (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Israel from Hebron, let's say, for seven years and six months. And since then, Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people. And the united capital state of Israel forever was the saying. I don't think that you know Hebrew, but we say in Hebrew (SPEAKING IN HEBREW), which means (UNINTELLIGIBLE), And that's how we see it.
And we are not having any plans whatsoever to divide Jerusalem. It's a united and undivided, besides being the capital of the Jewish people for so many years, thousands of years, that is, I would say, the united and undivided capital of the state of Israel.
QUESTION: So you can never foresee a time where you might compromise with the Palestinians and do what Prime Minister Barak offered, which was to give the areas that are not Jewish in Jerusalem to the Palestinians for their capital.
SHARON: No, we don't see any possibility that Jerusalem will be divided. That is the holiest place of the Jewish people. And I can say that the pope that just died — I remember when I went to meet him at the — and invite him to visit to the land of Israel at the millennium, and I said then as the minister — deputy minister of foreign affairs, we discussed many issues there, but maybe the most important thing that what I heard from the pope, he repeated this several times that day, I would like you to remember that though the land of Israel is holy for the Jews, for Christians, and for Muslims, it has been promised only to the Jews. And there is a difference between (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some time (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And we remember that well. We know that.
QUESTION: Does President Bush agree with you that the road map has not begun yet?
SHARON: Yes, I think that President Bush knows very well. And that letter that he sent or the agreement that we have had, and that says one thing, that in order to enter the road map, which we are committed to, it should be a full cessation of before, there must be reforms of the Palestinian Authority, terrorist organizations should be dismantled, their weapons should be taken, should be an end of smuggling, and the illegal Palestinian military industry, if I could call it, should be stopped immediately. And of course all those reforms that should take place. There should be more cooperation between our secret services. And maybe one of the most important things is of course to educate to peace.
That's one of the problems, you know, people ask, what is the next step? How can you solve these things? I'll tell you. I think that's a much deeper problem there, and think the problem there in our part of the world is that Arabs, and I say Arabs because not only the Palestinians, because they're are also Arabs, but that refers to all the countries in the region there — the Arab world has not yet recognized the birthright of the Jews to have an independent Jewish state in the cradle or the homeland of the Jewish people. That is the main problem.
And so that, I would say, the peace agreement with Egypt and the peace agreement with Jordan, which are maybe close to strategic cooperation, we have very close relations with Jordan, that it is (INAUDIBLE) agreements between leaders. They are not agreements between peoples. Peoples (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and therefore it's a lot how one can solve that. One could solve it only about thing, by education.
QUESTION: Let me interrupt because I know we're short of time. On this very issue?
SHARON: I'm not in a hurry, are you in a hurry?
QUESTION: I'm not in a hurry.
QUESTION: But I want to take this opportunity, because I have a few more questions for you. One is, are you disappointed in President Mahmoud Abbas? Is he fulfilling what were your expectations a few months ago? Do you have a partner on the Palestinian side?
SHARON: There's no doubt when we see what we had for almost 40 years, when the Palestinians were led by Yasser Arafat, who was directly responsible for murder, of killings of thousands of people, mostly civilians, babies and children and old people and women and so on, that they had a strategy of terror. And then the thing that once he left us and Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas had been elected, at least we have someone we could talk to.
Myself, I have good relations with him, and for many years now. We have met many times, and we met in my office. We've met in the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, not far from the place where you live now. And of course, we met him on our farm in the southern part of the country. So personal relations seem to be good relations. And I would say that we keep contact with the prime minister's office to keep ourselves in daily contact.
And I think that with him, there is an opportunity to change the situation between the Palestinians and ourselves. Of course, we've been expecting more steps to be taken by him. So I deployed the forces. But to say that they are really taking all the necessary steps or things that they — himself, he believed that should be taken, that is not the situation.
And I think that — I'm not disappointed, because I don't see anybody else at the current that could have done it better, or would be ready to do it better. But I would not say that he takes all the necessary steps. And he knows that we need to move forward, he has to, say, to stop terror, he has to take steps against them, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) them. He has to collect their weapons. They have to stop the smuggling weapons.
As a matter of fact, all of them smuggle, the terrorist organizations, and they include also the Palestinian Authority also smuggles weapons for their needs of future or so on.
And then what I do expect is that he'll take more effort and will be more decided about acting against terror. Seeing that it was a mistake on his side to sign the agreement with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations, and that when he committed himself not to act against them, and to share the den, I'll say, willingly of the Palestinian Authority, I think that might be an obstacle on this. I'm worried because perhaps he committed himself not act against them, how he would be able to dismantle terrorist organizations, collect their weapons? I think that maybe it was convenient for him at the present time, but I don't think that it might be the answer to the problems that we face.
So altogether I think that there is an opportunity, and I will go to meet this opportunity because I decided to make a real effort, first of all to make the disengagement plan, which, by itself), is very hearty. And of course, I hope that they will take necessary steps on their side to be able to move forward.
QUESTION: Does Israel know who killed Rafik Hariri?
SHARON: I didn't hear you.
QUESTION: Does Israel know who killed Rafik Hariri?
SHARON: No, I don't think we know more than you know about it. And some things have been clear about this issue and they're not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that the Syrians and the Syrian security services and that the culprit is them. They are regarded to be responsible for that. No doubt that say it's been going to the direction of the Syrians.
QUESTION: If Syria pulls out of Lebanon, as it appears to be doing, what effect will it have on Hezbollah, and how will it affect Israel?
SHARON: First, I think it's very, very important. Resolution 1559 is very important and should be — the Syrian Accountability Act — very important, and so it should be pressured really to leave completely, to leave Lebanon completely. By now they have not done this. And but that should include also their security services, their intelligence services.
QUESTION: What about Hezbollah? What affect will it have on them with regard to Israel?
SHARON: One, first, let's say that the Hezbollah terrorist organizations, they are the surrogates of Syria, and no doubt they are in very close relations with the Syrians. And as I said, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Iran, Syria, and the Hezbollah of course are working together. I think that Hezbollah no doubt that they work together with the Syrians. They work together with the Syrians now in order to keep the deep influence of Syria. I do know that Syria never will recognize Lebanon as an independent country, and the declaration of independence of Lebanon took place in 1943. Syria never — Syria never have recognized Lebanon. They regard Lebanon as part of Syria. There are about 1 million Syrians that make their living there. I think that the main — the Levant (ph) is under complete control of the Syrians also?
QUESTION: But will Hezbollah be cut off if Syria is out of there? Will they become more peaceful if Syria is gone?
SHARON: I think it's very hard to assume that the Hezbollah, equipped so heavily by rockets in southern Lebanon, even if they participate in the elections there, and that doesn't make Lebanon to become a democracy when, say, one of the sides are so heavily armed. And I think that what should be done if first of all, it should be really pressure on Syria to really withdraw from Lebanon and stop their influence there.
I think that all the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that are stations in Lebanon now are coordinators of these organizations and they're very active also in anti-Israeli terror acts. And as long as the headquarters of those organizations are in Damascus there and planning areas of terrorist organizations between those that act in Iraq (ph) at the present time, they should be deported and expelled, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards should be expelled.
And I believe that once there can be elections there, and it would be success to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) opposing Syrian control, I think this should be helped. And they have to disarm the Hezbollah terrorist organization. As a matter of fact, I think that the greatest danger at the present time to Abu Mazen, the danger is not from our side — we are helping him, and we are ready to help him, and we have been helping him — but this comes from Iran, from Syria, and from the Hezbollah. That is the greatest danger that, beside of the fact that the Iranians are making every effort, I would say, to insert more radical Islamic education in Lebanon. And there are actually among the Israeli-Arabs, the minority, most of the Israeli-Arabs like to be integral part of the Israeli society. But they're in the minority — minority, but a growing minority of Israelis (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by Iranians through the Islamic movement, and that they participate in terror. They (UNINTELLIGIBLE) another, I would say, particular problem that we are having.
QUESTION: I understand we're ending our interview, and just one — I have to ask one quick question. Have you decided what to do with the settlers' homes in Gaza? Has the World Bank agreed to buy those homes?
SHARON: First, officially they have not decided yet. When we come back, I'll bring the issue to the government. One thing we would like, I would say, of course, to remove the synagogues and bring them to Israel, and the cemeteries. And we prefer that the buildings there and those (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will be remain. That meets cooperation between ourselves and the Palestinians. I suggested after the meeting at Sharm El Sheikh that we will coordinate with them, because I think it's better that they will get control of this property rather than the Hamas or the Islamic Jihad or any other of the, say, radical Palestinian terrorist organizations?
QUESTION: Did the World Bank agree to buy the homes?
SHARON: I think the issue is, I would say, under talks. And I would like to leave that intact. But that of course also needs the participation of the Palestinians. After our withdrawal from there, they will get control over this property. Otherwise it would be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to say immediately.
But that, I would say, altogether, with all these other problems, and usually interviews only problems, right?
QUESTION: That's right.
SHARON: I think that Israel has done — achieved tremendous achievements in the last 100 years in every field. And therefore my sense — I look with optimism, and I'm sure that we first will be able to have achievement there and that what we are doing will help ourselves of course, and will help also the Palestinians. And looking forward with optimism.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.
SHARON: Thank you.