ISRAELI PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES: Mr. Secretary, I'm very delighted to see you.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you.
PRES. PERES: For those who don't know it, this is our third meeting. I met you twice when you were a senator. And we have had the most candid discussion, and I still remember vividly your support for my country and for the security of Israel.
Now, I want really to congratulate you on becoming the secretary of defense of the United States of America. It's a -- (inaudible) -- I don't envy you. I know to embrace the present world is not a simple proposition, but I cannot imagine the world without the United States. There is nobody to replace you.
Because you care for others. Others could do likewise, but the United States cares for the freedom, for the independence of other people, not only by providing financial support, but really sending your boys to fight for them. Many of them lose their lives. And you brought to them freedom, and you brought to them independence, and you brought to them hope.
But before all that, I would like to express my condolences for the tragedy in Boston.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.
PRES. PERES: I know how terrible it is. I went through myself on many occasions this, and it's unforgivable and unforgettable. And our heart is with the families who lost their beloved one and the people who are still in hospital, and we pray for their speedy recovery.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.
PRES. PERES: We have had just a visit of President Obama. I think it was a highly important and meaningful visit. You know, today, if you want to make peace or impress policy, you have to speak to the people. And the president did it in a very convincing way -- very open, very balanced, with a great deal of empathy and understanding of the problems of Israel, and I think he left behind him many people who really admire his approach.
It's that, his honesty, straightforwardness and the guarantee that he will not allow that Iran will become nuclear. By the way, you know us have nothing against the Iranian people.
The Iranian people are going to have elections very soon. I try to understand what do they want. Iran doesn't have a single enemy. Nobody threatened Iran. Why did their leaders decide to become a threat to others?
It's hard to understand because they don't need neither any sort of weapons. And if I were an Iranian, I would really try to see that our children are having enough food for breakfast and young people have an occasion to be educated and live in peace.
What's wrong with peace? Even if peace is not enriched uranium -- you know, you can make anything even without enriched uranium if nobody is threatening you.
And I think from that point of view, your visit is timely and meaningful. It is not just to pay a visit in this country. But it means that the message coming from you is that you are determined, as really a leader of the free world, not to permit Iran to make this terrible mistake and become nuclear.
If it can be achieved by diplomatic means, the better. Otherwise, they must know that just by diplomacy, it will not be forgiven. And the president spoke very clearly. I was watching your interview now on the television. You said actually the same thing.
And I have the full trust in your position, in your seriousness, because, really, Israelis understand that Iran is not just a threat to Israel. It's really a threat to the peace in the world, for no reason whatsoever. The world doesn't threaten Iran.
And it's a message, don't wait. You have a choice. You don't show animosity to Iran. You simply tell them not to make the Middle East a terrible place of threats and the mass destruction weapons. You can see what's happening now in Syria.
What's happening in the Middle East, briefly, I believe, is the Middle East is in search of a new place in a new age. It's not simple. It has nothing to do with Israel. All the events in Syria, in Libya, in Lebanon, in Egypt is really a result of their own attempt to meet a new world and to meet new challenges.
The only place where there is a real link between the Arab position and our own is the Palestinian story. That is the last link, the link in a questionable way, not in a positive way, that we can solve.
I believe, in spite of all that is being published, there is a chance to get peace with the Palestinians. The differences are not as large as the headlines. We started with Oslo, where we agreed how to conclude the negotiations with the two-state solution, which is accepted by our prime minister, by our people, by the Palestinians, by the rest of the world, including the United States of America.
So I read now the newspapers without headlines. (Laughter.)
I think the stories are more important. And I think we are ready to utilize the time to do it.
I wouldn't close my eyes to what's happening in the Arab world. You know, we are an island in an ocean. We have to defend our island, and it is our responsibility. And thanks heaven that we have your support.
The security and defense relations between the United States of America and Israel are the best. They themselves are a message that we are not alone and they shouldn't relate us as being alone. So we have the right of self-defense.
But being an island, we like to see the sea becoming concrete as well. We are not -- (inaudible). I mean a great deal of the bitterness and the belligerency comes because the problems in the Middle East are neither as political as we think, nor as religious as we used to think. The real issue today is existential. People are hungry. Young people are unemployed. There's not enough food, not enough water, and all of us are first of all human beings.
Would I think, it's impossible to handle, maybe I wouldn't talk about it. But we are a part of the Middle East. We have the same poor land. We have the same shortage of water. Sixty percent of Israel, the Negev, was a desert; 40 percent was a swamp. We didn't have neither land nor water. So we really made the best use of technology and science. And what we can do, they can do.
And now there is a problem about the waters of the Nile and it is very tense. I believe, as we can make from one drop of water four drops of water, they can make from one Nile four Niles, by science and technology. By the way, I believe that science and technology they are more important than foreign aid, because when you gave the first foreign aid to Egypt in 1952, there were 70 million Egyptians and you provided them with $3 billion. It was meaningful.
Today there are 87 million people, and this amount doesn't answer the real challenge, and the – also -- every country has its own home program. I know what it is. I was myself a secretary of defense. I know what it is that all the ministers are expecting you to cut down your budget. And I was also minister of finance. So I know the difference. And the minister of – the balance -- in finance, every morning a balance sheet. In the minister of defense, you don't have it. You have to imagine. You have to speculate. You have to watch the other people being armed and so on.
But in spite of it, we can provide them with know-how and help them to come out of it.
As an Israeli, I'm really hopeful and I wish to see the Arab people going out of their economic crisis. It will change the political arena and the security situation, maybe more than anything else.
So all this is really on the agenda. We don't take it lightly. I know it's a -- I know you don't take it lightly. Nobody can take it lightly. There's not much room for mistakes. We have to take it seriously and in a determined way. But neither are we helpless. We shouldn't look at it -- that's it. That's the final verdict.
No, we can and should make peace. We can and we should help other people to overcome their existential problems without going into politics or religion. And we can prevent the Iranians from making themself a catastrophe for their own sake and for the rest of the world.
So I want really to express my appreciation for your coming, for the message that you carry. I see your people in uniforms. I want to thank them for very intimate and friendly relationship with our armed – it’s them at their best. And thank you for promoting it and making clear your position and your promise to continue so in the years to come. Thank you.
SEC. HAGEL: Mr. President, thank you. It is a personal pleasure to renew our friendship. I recall vividly the first time we met. You were very generous with your time to spend an evening having dinner alone with a very junior United States senator. And I have relayed that story many, many times to many people as to what kind of a man Shimon Peres is, not just president, or former prime minister, or minister of finance, minister of defense, the entire portfolios' array that you have held.
I also bring you greetings from President Obama. He asked me to extend his warmest, best wishes to you, also to tell you how much he appreciated his visit here and his time with you. So thank you for -- for that.
You have just framed, I believe, the -- the realities of the world that we live in. And you've -- you've done more than that. You have ascribed the reasons for much of this great chaos and turmoil. And it is now up to the world of today, the leaders of today, to take that reality and shape something out of it, and, as you say, not run away from it. It doesn't need to be as it is, as you have said.
And we can do something with all that, and I share your hopefulness. It's difficult. It's dangerous. It's combustible. Our margins of error are very thin, if -- if any with these big issues. But still, we are living through, I think, a defining of a new world order, just as you said. And it -- it still is within our capacity to do something about.
As you spoke, Mr. President, I am reminded, once again, of why I have always ascribed "world statesman" to you personally, as I have told many people, not just from that first meeting, but your career, in what you have been about and what you have done in the time that you have been in these responsible positions. And you have made a difference. If, for no other reason, you have given inspiration to a whole new generation, a couple of generations of leaders.
I also want to wish you an early happy birthday. I know you have a birthday coming up. And so, I'll send you some Omaha steaks or -- or maybe a bushel of corn from Nebraska for something that would be particularly appropriate for our state. But I wanted to tell you that.
And also to conclude by saying how much I always appreciate being in your country. I spent two hours this morning with Mr. Ya'alon, touring the north in a helicopter. And I had been in those areas in my many visits here. But I'd never seen it the way that the minister had it laid out for me, the north along the border.
And when you have that experience, as you know so well, it really does shape the kind of challenges and the kind of world that Israel's living with, and in a clear way. It also says something else about the astounding power of the -- of the mind of freedom, of initiative, what the people of Israel have done since 1948 to really produce something very special in science, in technology, in so many of these areas.
I will conclude this way by agreeing with you on what's most important to people. Aid is important, but it's not lasting, to your point about science and technology and innovation and incentive, freedom to use the human spirit and the human mind. And I appreciate you saying that because we tend, as you know, in our business of leadership today, with ricocheting from crisis to crisis, to be so consumed with the day to day, the minute to minute that we lose sight of the larger context.
So thank you. And I'm looking forward to our conversation. Wonderful to see you again.
PRES. PERES: Thank you very much. And thank you for the congratulations. You know, once, doctor -- (inaudible) -- told me that I was just one problem in life, and this is the first 90 years, then it goes. (Laughter.)
Thank you very much.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.