Don't Let Iran Become Nuclear Power, Nobel Laureate Urges

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Paris ( - European leaders must take the threat of Iran's nuclear program and its president's threat to "wipe Israel off the map" seriously, a group of French intellectuals said at a meeting in Paris Thursday. They presented a petition calling for sanctions against Iran.

Nobel peace prize winner Elie Wiesel, who presided over the meeting, pointed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conference this week questioning the Holocaust and his affirmed hatred of Israel. These were the reasons, he said, why Iran had to be stopped from developing nuclear weapons, which it could use against Israel.

"Why so much passion in his [Ahmadinejad's] Holocaust denial?" Wiesel asked at a press conference before a public meeting. "Why so much hatred against Israel?"

"We cannot just be here and do nothing," said Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and the author of several books about Nazi concentration camps. "We believe everything must be done so Iran does not become a nuclear power."

Wiesel argued that it would be wrong for the U.S. to engage in discussions with Iran over Iraq, cause Ahmadinejad could not be trusted. The Iraq Study group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, has recommended that the Bush administration engage with Iran, as well as Syria, in a bid to bring stability to Iraq.

"There are other means of obtaining the cessation of the war in Iraq," Wiesel said.

He also took issue with the ISG report's linking of Israel to the debate on the Iraq war, saying Israel had nothing to do with it.

U.N. Security Council negotiations aimed at halting Iran's uranium enrichment program have been slow because of Russian and Chinese opposition to sanctions proposed by the U.S., Britain, France and Germany.

Negotiators on Wednesday reported some progress in the wording of a measure that would call for a trade ban on products related to Iran's nuclear program and travel restrictions on Iranians involved in the program.

The French group's petition is asking European leaders to agree on more stringent sanctions, including a travel ban against Ahmadinejad in Europe, a ban on arm sales, a call for French firms to stop investing in Iran, and an embargo on nuclear technology exchanges.

Remi Brague, a philosopher who is also one of the signatories, told the meeting that Ahmadinejad's comments about the destruction of Israel had to be taken seriously.

"If he says he wants to do certain things, he intends to do them - and he would do them if the possibility were offered to him," Brague said.

He warned about parallels with Hitler's anti-Semitic rhetoric in the 1930s. At the time, he said, the rhetoric was viewed as propaganda for internal German consumption and was not thought to pose a threat.

Addressing participants at the revisionist conference in Tehran earlier this week, Iran's president declared that "he Zionist regime will be wiped out soon, the same way the Soviet Union was, and humanity will achieve freedom."

Another coordinator of the Paris meeting, French philosopher Andre Glucksmann, said Ahmadinejad's theological advisers believed that a nuclear weapon was no worse than any other weapon and that it could be used for the purposes of jihad, or holy war.

The organizers have said they are acting as public citizens to bring the Iran issue to the French public because it has been ignored by the media.

They also decided to act because, after meeting with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste Blazy, they had realized that diplomacy was failing to stop Iran from continuing its nuclear development.

In a survey last month by the TNS Sofres research company, 79 percent of French respondents expressed support for sanctions against Iran. Eighty percent took Ahmadinejad's threat to annihilate Israel seriously.

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