Peres accuses Iran of trying to topple his government

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JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has charged that Iran is seeking to topple his government and thereby bring an end to the peace process.

Peres made the comment Sunday after disclosing that an Iranian ship loaded with explosives and presumably intended for attacks on Israelis and Jews had been discovered in the port of Antwerp, Belgium.

The disguised shipment, which was being sent to an Iranian food importer in Munich, had only been discovered by chance, Peres said, adding that the Iranian plan could have succeeded.

"They are doing whatever they can to bring an end to peace and bring an end to the government that goes for peace," Peres told the Central Committee.

This was not the first time Peres said that Islamic militants wanted Labor to lose the May 29 national election.

The Likud opposition voiced sharp criticism when Peres recently said that the wave of Hamas suicide attacks in Israel in late February and early March were aimed at bringing to power a Likud government that would be more hardline in its approach to the peace process.

Likud officials responded in a statement to Peres' remarks on Sunday with the charge that the prime minister had given up seeking the Israeli public's confidence in his party and instead felt obliged to "recruit all of Israel's enemies to convince the public why it shouldn't vote for the Likud.

"Had the Likud made similar comments on Peres, he would have complained of incitement against him," said the Likud statement. "Too bad he needs such wretched allies to convince the public to support him."

Iran reacted to the Hamas suicide bombings by calling them "divine retribution" to the Jewish state. The Tehran government later backed off from the statement after coming under criticism from Western countries.

In a related development, a delegation from the European Union failed to convince Iran to condemn terrorism during talks last week in Tehran.

The E.U. delegation, which included the deputy foreign ministers of Italy, Spain and Ireland, traveled to Tehran to tell the Iranian government that the future of Iran's continued dialogue with Europe depended on its firm condemnation of terrorism.

"We asked Iran not to take ambiguous positions on the bomb attacks in Israel that could encourage speculation that Iran backs terrorism," the delegation was quoted as saying.

But Iranian officials stood behind their position, denying that the Palestinian militants' fight against Israel amounted to terror.

The officials, who have been accused by Israel of financing and arming the Hamas terrorists who carried out the bombings, also repeated Iran's rejection of the Mideast peace process as "unjust to the Palestinians."

The 15-member states of the European Union, many of whom maintain trade links with Iran, have come under pressure from the United States and Israel to isolate Iran as a rogue state.

But the European Union has resisted these pressures, preferring to maintain what it calls its "critical dialogue" with Iran in hopes of getting the Islamic Republic to support the Middle East peace process.

The failure of the E.U. mission in Tehran may lead the organization to reconsider its stance.