05/10/2012 03:05 EDT | Updated 07/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Israeli president: Free people cannot accept idea of nuclear-armed Iran

MONTREAL - Israeli President Shimon Peres says he can't imagine the free world agreeing with the idea of Iran getting the nuclear bomb.

In his latest stop on a Canadian tour, Peres reminded 1,700 members of Montreal's Jewish community of the dangers of Iran becoming a nuclear power.

"I cannot imagine that the free world, including America, will say we don't care if the Middle East will fall under the spell of the Iranians with nuclear bombs," he told his audience Thursday.

Peres appeared to be counting on an American-led coalition to beat back any threat of nuclear terrorism.

He praised Canada's contribution to the coalition against terrorism, noting the country had sent soldiers to Afghanistan.

"Better to go hand in hand with the United States," he added. "I believe they are serious (the) Americans and I think the president is serious."

The Nobel laureate also spent a part of his arm-chair speech painting a bleak picture about Egypt's economic difficulties.

More than a year after the country's revolution, Peres says he doesn't see Egypt's leaders having any solutions to the problems.

"I don't see how they are going to do it, they are going to have to reconstruct their own economy, their own society."

Peres added that Egypt can only recover if women are given equal rights.

"If women are discriminated, the victims are children because if a woman is not educated, the children are not educated," Peres added.

The two-time Israeli prime minister noted that 41 per cent of Egyptians don't know how to read and write "in a world that is highly competitive."

"Difficulties of other people does not give us any pleasure," he said. "We would like to see the Middle East flourishing and free and democratic."

But the observations by the 88-year-old elder statesman, who has been a fixture in Israeli politics since 1959 and has served in 12 cabinets, were not all serious.

Peres told his audience that when he's asked what the greatest contribution of the Jewish people to the rest of the world is, his answer is simple: "Dissatisfaction."

"A Jew cannot be satisfied — the minute he becomes satisfied, I doubt his Jewishness," Peres said, drawing laughter and applause.

He said that attitude has helped make Israel successful in research and development.

A group of 300 rabbis and professors from the Montreal area also sent Peres a letter encouraging him to bring about the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard is an American who spied for Israel and was sentenced to life in a U.S. prison in 1987.

The rabbis expressed hope that U.S. President Barack Obama would accept Peres's appeal for clemency for Pollard.

An Israeli government source would not comment on the letter, calling the issue ''sensitive.''

Peres was also scheduled to meet Jean Charest but a spokesman for the Quebec premier said he had a previous commitment to speak to a meeting of Quebec municipalities in Gatineau.