President Peres: "Israel respects the efforts of the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Mahmud Abbas and his government, to build the infrastructure of the Palestinian state that is already on its way. We aspire and yearn for peace with all of our neighbors, including Syria and Lebanon."
Spanish PM Zapatero to Peres: "Spain would like to strengthen and tighten its strategic relationship with Israel."
– President Peres Q&A with senior government officials and opinion leaders at Europa Press
(Communicated by the President’s Media Adviser)
President Shimon Peres held a working diplomatic meeting (22 February) with the Prime Minister of Spain Jose Luis Zapatero at his official residence in Madrid.
At the beginning of the meeting Prime Minister Zapatero said that Spain is very honored to welcome one of the world’s greatest statesmen and smartest individuals, the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, to mark the 25th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Photo: GPO/Amos Ben Gershom
Prime Minister Zapatero: "The people of Spain and of Israel have a shared history. Unfortunately we experienced a period of detachment for hundreds of years in our relationship and as a result the Spanish public does not know Israel so well. They only know Israel through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and we must work today to change the current status. During this visit, Spain requests to strengthen, tighten and broaden its strategic relations with Israel."
Prime Minister Zapatero also said: "Israel plays at the top of the NBA league of high-tech and science in the world, while we in Spain are only making our first steps in this league. We are interested in basing our cooperation on these areas as well as in the diplomatic and security spheres." President Peres responded jokingly and said: "This is very well and good but we are not Real Madrid." The Prime Minister responded by saying: "good, in football no one can compete with us."
The two spoke about current events in the Middle East and agreed to promote the establishment of a joint forum of commercial companies to include Israel, Spain, and the Palestinians. The goal of this forum is to advance joint commercial technology projects in the Middle East. It works on the assumption that strengthening democracy will be done, among other things, by the entry of advanced technology and science companies in these countries.
Prime Minister Zapatero instructed the Spanish Minister of Science and Innovation, Cristina Garmendia, to immediately meet with the heads of the Israeli commercial delegation accompanying the President on his visit to Spain in order to hasten these joint ventures.
With regard to regional issues the President repeated Israel’s desire to advance the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and Israel’s support for democracy, peace and stability in the Middle East.
The two also extensively discussed the Iranian nuclear threat and the President emphasized that serious measures against Iran must be taken as they are developing nuclear weapons of mass destruction. The President suggested combining economic sanctions as well as moral ones. "World leaders should be embarrassed to be seen with Ahmadinejad and his actions in the United Nations should be denounced," the President said. Later in the conversation Prime Minister Zapatero asked the President to analyze the current trends taking place in the Middle East and the future relations of Israel with its neighbors.
Later in the day President Peres delivered a diplomatic address in front a special session of the Congress.
With regard to the situation between Israel and the Palestinians, the President said: "I turn to our neighbors the Palestinians and say, come immediately and return to the negotiating table. With intense and focused effort we can solve this continued conflict and bequeath to our children what was robbed from us. I know that there is skepticism regarding peace as well as suspicion on both sides. But suspicion is not an iron rule. We have seen in the past that the Palestinians suspected that right of center governments would never agree to a two state solution. But they were wrong. Israel assumed that the Palestinians would demand the return of 5 million refugees, but we were wrong. In spite of the skepticism we overcame differences of opinion, with Egypt and with Jordan. Israel respects the efforts of the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Mahmud Abbas and his government, to build the infrastructure of the Palestinian state that is already on its way."
The President emphasized to the members of Congress: "Peace will bring an influx in tourism as well as global projects. Modern factories in the fields of energy, water, the environment and free trade will be created. In short everything will improve. We aspire and yearn for peace with all of our neighbors, including Syria and Lebanon. I turn to our neighbors the Syrians and say do not follow Iran. Iran does not seek peace. Come to the negotiating table without preconditions so we can achieve an agreement. And to the people of Lebanon I say: Do not let Hizbullah turn your country into a battlefield. Lebanon was meant to be a field of peace. There is no need for any conflict between us, we have every reason for peace between us."
The President touched on the Iranian issue and said: "The Middle East today is divided between moderate governments interested in peace and freedom and between fanatical governments and dictators who are in a never ending search for enriched uranium and terror. Fanatics have a destructive strength but they have no message of hope for themselves or their inhabitants. Terror is capable of striking anywhere. You experienced this in the horrible terror attack in the subway.
Iran supplies Hizbullah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza with arms and terror. They work to establish terror cells, opened and hidden, in other countries as well. Iran is developing nuclear weapons and threatening the moderate countries. The Iranian nuclear program poses a threat to world peace. I am convinced that the world will not cave in to the hatred of this fanatical and radical leader like Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of fanaticism, incitement and terror attacks. I believe that the day will come when the leadership of Iran that is threatening its people will find out that they are being threatened by their very own people. And rightfully so. We are very grateful to the very determined stance of Spain on the Iranian issue."
The King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, hosted President Peres at his Palace for a reception that was attended by the Prime Minister, senior Ministers, government officials and other leading personalities. President Peres invited the King to visit Israel as his guest.
On Monday evening (21 February) President Peres was the guest of honor at a special ceremony held at the Central Synagogue in Madrid. Over 1,000 members of the local Jewish community participated in the event. The chief Rabbi of Spain, Moshe Ben Dahan, recited a special prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel, for the welfare of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, and for the speedy return of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit.
President Peres is on an official visit to Spain this week. Before departing for Spain the President was interviewed by Spanish Television TVE in a full-length interview which was broadcast on Monday.