Gordon Brown on Monday urged Iran to suspend its nuclear programme or face isolation, while attacking the country’s president for his “abhorrent” threat to wipe Israel off the map.
Although the meaning of the Iranian leader’s words is contested, the British prime minister, speaking to Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem, promised that the Jewish state would not have to stand alone in its struggle with Iran.
Echoing comments made by George W. Bush, US president, when he spoke to the Knesset earlier this year, Mr Brown warned that Tehran was risking “the collective response not of one nation but of many nations”.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.
The first British leader invited to speak in the Knesset, Mr Brown stressed both his country’s and his own personal commitment to the Jewish state. “I am proud to say that for the whole of my life I have counted myself a friend of Israel,” he said.
But the prime minister – saying he wanted to offer his “honest analysis” – also criticised Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank and in Arab East Jerusalem.
Mr Brown called on Israel to create the conditions for a peace deal with the Palestinians by “freezing, and withdrawing from, settlements” in the West Bank. He also urged Israel to ease “obstacles to Palestinian economic growth”, for example by allowing the reopening of the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in East Jerusalem, which was controversially closed by Israel during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in 2001.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority are in the midst of peace talks that are supposed to lead to an agreement by the end of the year. So far, however, the talks have made little headway. With both the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership weakened by political pressure at home, few analysts believe the two sides will be able to secure a deal in the near future.
Mr Brown, however, told his Israeli audience that peace “is in your grasp”, stressing the current Palestinian leadership offered Israel “the best partner of a generation”.
Following his whistlestop tour of Baghdad and Basra on Saturday, Mr Brown will on Tuesday give MPs an update on British involvement in Iraq.
After talks with Iraqi and military leaders, he has struck an optimistic note on troop withdrawals, holding out the prospect that Britain’s work there could soon be “complete”. He has steadfastly refused to set a timetable, however.