President Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to Israeli President Shimon Peres at a dinner at the White House on Wednesday. The last surviving founder of the state of Israel, Peres went on to serve as prime minister and leader of the Labor Party, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his role in the Oslo Accords, the first Israeli agreement with the Palestinians. The morning after the White House dinner, Peres sat down with The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth at Blair House to discuss Syria, Iran and U.S. presidents from Kennedy to Obama. Excerpts:
What is your view on Syria right now? What should the world do?
They say that there is reluctance to remove President [Bashar al-]Assad because they don’t know what the alternative is. But Assad is no longer an alternative — he is finished. He cannot be an alternative, neither from a human point of view nor from a political point of view. It’s over. The problem is: Who should handle the transition? Who should take care of replacing him? I think that Kofi Annan’s idea of a combination between the Arab League and the United Nations is not a bad one.
You like the idea of a combination of the United Nations and the Arab League?
Annan says he is a representative of the United Nations and the Arab League. It’s the first time in history that something like this is happening. Why wouldn’t you suggest that the United Nations give a mandate to the Arab League to change the system, instead of the Arab League advising or complaining? It’s an Arab question. Whoever will intervene, they will say it’s a foreign intervention. Let them do it, and the United Nations will give them the mandate and the support.
So you don’t think it’s a question of whether the West should arm the opposition?
If the West arms the opposition, they can say it is a war of the West. It’s an Arab question. There is an Arab League, the Arabs have armies, they have got a mandate from the United Nations for a transitional period of time to have elections. Let them handle it and get rid of Assad. They attack Assad. They say they cannot stand the way he is killing children. The time has come for the Arab League to take responsibility and not just criticize others. You don’t want an intervention, okay. You want the support of all the nations, okay. Then go and do it. That’s what I suggested to the president and Secretary [Hillary Rodham] Clinton.
What did they say?
They showed interest. I didn’t expect an answer on the spot.
You could ask, why did NATO intervene in Libya? What’s the difference?
The difference is that the Libyans killed [Moammar] Gaddafi. It wasn’t a Western force. The uprising was Libyan. And now in Libya they got rid of Gaddafi, but they do not yet have an alternative.
How do you see the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Spring?
I think the Middle East is in a transitional period. We have to bring into account two policies. One is the transitional policy — I don’t know how long it will take — and the other is a permanent solution. In the transitional period, you have to handle [countries] case by case. There is no common denominator. When you handle [them] case by case, you cannot forget [the interim policies] should lead to a permanent solution.