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Israel president tells Europe to do more to pressure Iran

Israel's President Shimon Peres attends a press conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Jean-Marc Loos
Israel's President Shimon Peres attends a press conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Jean-Marc Loos

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - Israeli President Shimon Peres urged the European Union on Tuesday to step up pressure on Iran over its ballistic missile program, as well as trying to curb its nuclear ambitions.

In a speech to the European Parliament that touched on the Jewish state's foreign policy goals, the Nobel peace laureate sought to persuade European lawmakers to act quickly on Iran, which Israel regards as an existential threat.

As well as its efforts to enrich uranium, which the West suspects Iran wants for a nuclear weapon, Peres said Europe needed to be worried about Iran's ballistic missile capabilities, which could allow it to deliver a bomb.

"Iran is constructing long-range missiles equipped with nuclear warheads. It can reach the far corners of the world, including Europe," Peres said. "I believe that in addition to controlling the production of highly enriched uranium, there is a need to control the means of delivery."

Israel has threatened to bomb Iran's nuclear installations if international diplomatic efforts fail to persuade it to curb its nuclear work, which Iran maintains is for peaceful purposes.

The EU, which oversees diplomacy with Iran on behalf of six world powers, has imposed a ban on exports to Iran of materials related to military and ballistic programs, as well as measures to exert pressure over Tehran's nuclear work.

Peres, whose role in Israel is largely ceremonial, also urged European governments to address Iran's forthcoming election, four years after a disputed ballot led to the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"Your voice will show the Iranian people that the world has not turned its back on them," the 89-year-old told the parliament, the EU's only directly elected body.

Earlier on Tuesday, the EU imposed sanctions on nine Iranian officials whom it blames for human rights violations.

Peres, a former prime minister, sought to reassure European governments that the January 22 election in Israel and the creation of a new government would open the way for the resumption of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, stalled since 2010.

He delivered an emotional defense of Israel's role in the process, seeking to quash concerns over Israel's settlement policy in the occupied West Bank, which the EU and other states say is illegal under international law.

The Palestinians want Israel to freeze settlement construction before any talks can resume. Israel has said that is akin to setting preconditions on the talks.

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Alison Williams)

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