"I declare the Middle East free from the threat of (nuclear) destruction," President Shimon Peres said in an interview with Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman this week.
Peres also ruled out the possibility of talks with Hamas as things currently stand, saying, " Of course you can have a dialogue, but not with a wall."
Today's Zaman, which is linked to Turkey's ruling party, asked Peres about concerns over Iran attaining nuclear weapons. "Arms don’t destroy, people destroy. Pakistan has a bomb but has not hit anything. But here comes a declaration of the leader, a member of the United Nations that he wants to wipe out another member of the United Nations. Nobody can accept it. Israel is being threatened, but Iran is not being threatened by anybody," Peres said.
The president expressed skepticism over Ankara's ability to positively influence Iran: "Turkey can do business with Iran but cannot influence Iran to stop terror, cannot influence Iran to stop building bombs and threatening other people."
Regarding whether Israel would join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Peres responded: "Well, that’s another story. Israel never said we should detonate a nuclear bomb in the Middle East, but people are suspicious. And if the suspicion is a deterrent, it’s good enough. We are satisfied with the suspicion. We don’t want anything more."
Peres was also asked about the Middle East peace process, particularly on the possibility of engaging Hamas in the political system. "I think the chances are very low…Of course you can have a dialogue, but not with a wall," the president said.
When asked how he felt about the Oslo accords in hindsight, Peres said, "History takes time, you know. You have to overcome many prejudices, many hells, many fears and many worries. Personally, 14 to 20 years seems to be a long time period, but in fact it is not - it’s a short period of time."
Speaking of Turkey's role in the Middle East, Peres said Israel welcomed it. "We are very glad to learn that Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) decided to build industrial parks in Palestine, starting from Gaza all the way to Jenin. We are negotiating with a Turkish university to build a branch here. We are very happy about Turkey’s readiness to play more active role in the region," he said.
However Peres rejected the possibility that Ankara might play a role in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, saying that negotiations should be held directly between both parties.
"I think Turkey should support peace, not one side or the other, because the negotiations must be directly between the Israelis and the Palestinians, no other country can take part…I think if one must contribute, they should contribute more in the economic domain than the political one," he said.
Commenting on fear of the strengthening Islamic party in Turkey, Peres said these fears were baseless.
"Erdoğan declared that he is for a secular government, not for an Islamic government. You might be suspicious of his words. The more important thing is his actions. Is he behaving like an Islamist fundamentalist? The mere fact that Turkey is maintaining relations with Israel is the best declaration about the nature of the government," Peres said.