By Justin Sink - 06/25/14 05:41 PM EDT
Israeli president Shimon Peres on Wednesday told President Obama he was not sure Iraq could remain a united country amid growing sectarian violence in the country.
Peres, paying his last official visit to Washington, said he told Obama that "the best thing that could have happened was that Iraq remain a united country."
"But I wonder if its possible," the Israeli leader said, according to CNN. "To do so, you need [to be)] ready to stand a mighty army to force all the three parties together. I don't see the army to do it and I don't see the parties that will agree to it."
The Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has captured large swaths of territory in northern Iraq, posing a challenge to the U.S.-backed, predominantly Shiite central government in Baghdad. Meanwhile, Kurds in the country's northeast have used the ensuing chaos to expand their largely autonomous territory.
The White House has repeatedly said that they believe the best way to solve the crisis is for Iraq's political leaders to make the tough compromises necessary to keep the country unified.
But the infighting has given new life to a plan, advocated in 2008 by then-Sen. Joe Biden, to split Iraq into three autonomous regions.
On Tuesday, the White House declined to rule out such a solution.
“I’m not going to be in a position to offer a proposal for how they should draw up their map,” press secretary Josh Earnest said. “The most direct way for — in the view of this administration — for Iraq to confront the threat that they face from [ISIS] is to unite that country around a political agenda that gives every single citizen a stake in that country’s future and that country’s success.”
Earnest did say there was a "danger of trying to impose solutions from the outside about what anyone thinks is in the best interests of the Iraqi people."
Peres on Wednesday agreed it was not the role of the U.S. to take sides in the brewing religious conflict.
"The difference between the Shiites and Sunnis is more an Arab problem than an American problem or a problem of the world, and I think the Arabs should come in and play a major role because I don't think it's for the West to decide who is the real heir of Muhammad," Peres said.
The 90-year-old Israeli leader said he had met with 10 U.S. presidents during his life, starting with President Kennedy. On Wednesday, Obama and Peres met with American Jewish community leaders, held a working lunch, and then spent a brief amount of time in the Oval Office. Congressional leadership will present him with the Congressional Gold Medal on Thursday.