Washington - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Tuesday that Iran's quest for nuclear capacity must be stopped by all possible means, and urged the world to warn Tehran of its devastating repercussions.
In a keynote speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Olmert, whose three-day visit to Washington has been clouded by calls at home for his resignation over suspicion of graft, also said he believed peace with the Palestinians was "truly attainable."
"The Iranian threat must be stopped by all possible means. International economic and political sanctions on Iran, as crucial as they may be, are only an initial step, and must be dramatically increased," Olmert said.
"The international community has a duty and responsibility to clarify to Iran, through drastic measures, that the repercussions of their continued pursuit of nuclear weapons will be devastating," he told the pro-Israel lobby.
"Israel will not tolerate the possibility of a nuclear Iran, and neither should any other country in the free world," the premier said, in the strongest remarks the Israeli leader has made on the issue.
Israel and its main ally the United States claim that the Islamic republic is using its civilian nuclear program as a front to conceal development of atomic weapons technology, a claim vehemently denied by Tehran.
Israel, believed to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, considers Iran's nuclear plans an existential threat after repeated calls by its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's for the Jewish state's destruction.
Ahmadinejad reiterated this view on Monday, saying that "the Jewish state is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene."
In other comments he insisted that Tehran's nuclear program does not breach international law. "Our nuclear program is legal and transparent. We are not seeking more than our rights."
The premier's trip offered him a brief respite from the turmoil at home where he faces a crescendo of calls for his resignation over suspicions he unlawfully obtained vast sums of money from a US financier.
And despite a warm welcome at the AIPAC conference, the trip may well be his last as premier to Israel's staunchest ally.
Olmert will meet US President George W. Bush in the White House on Wednesday for talks which are expected to focus on Iran's program, which Israel's intelligence services say could yield an atomic bomb by the end of 2010.
The two leaders will also finalize the details of a US military aid package that includes stealth F-35 fighter jets and an advanced missile early warning system which are seen as an effort to bolster Israel in the face of the Iran, a senior government official told AFP.
"Israel and the United States have long understood the acute danger embodied in a nuclear Iran, and are working closely in a concerted, coordinated effort to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear," Olmert said in his speech.
The premier said that Iran's defiance of international resolutions against its program "leave no doubt as to the urgent need for more drastic and robust measures."
He went on to urge countries that refine gasoline for Iran to impose sanctions on the oil-rich Islamic republic.
Olmert also said that Israel's indirect Turkish-mediated peace talks with Syria, announced in May after an eight-year freeze in talks, could deal a blow to Iran's "uninhibited ambition to achieve military superiority and regional hegemony."
"Syria is currently a threat to regional stability, but if it ultimately makes the choice to have peace relations with Israel, for which it will have to disengage from its allies in the Axis of Evil, this will constitute a drastic, strategic shift in the entire Middle East.
"Iran's negative response to this process can serve as an indication of the benefits embodied in it," Olmert said.
In his speech before an audience of over 7,000 dignitaries, Olmert also reiterated his commitment to try to ink a historic peace deal with the Palestinians within the framework of the US-sponsored negotiations launched last November.
"My obligation, as prime minister, is to explore every avenue to reach an understanding, and I truly believe that now, perhaps for the first time ever, it is attainable," he said.