Israel and the Czech Republic enjoy a rich history of close friendship. Our two countries share deep-rooted democratic values as well as many common interests and concerns.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom: It is a great pleasure to welcome my good friend and colleague, Czech Foreign Minister Svoboda, here to Jerusalem.

Our meeting today was a special one. Foreign Minister Svoboda became today the first foreign minister to participate in a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. This meeting – which took place here in the Foreign Ministry – highlights the great progress in relations between Israel and the European Union in recent months.

The conclusion last week of the Joint EU-Israel Action Plan within the framework of the ENP, European Neighborhood Policy, has brought this relationship to new heights. Israel and the European Union now have a strengthened platform for dialogue and cooperation on enhancing mutual trade and investment, promoting the war on terrorism, the fight against anti-Semitism, and many other common objectives, including Middle East peace.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank Foreign Minister Svoboda for his contribution to this mutual effort to enhance our ties.

The Czech Republic joined the European Union in May of this year, a development which Israel welcomes. Israel and the Czech Republic enjoy a rich history of close friendship, from the days of Thomas Masaryk over 80 years ago to this day.

Our two countries share deep-rooted democratic values as well as many common interests and concerns. We are natural partners and firm allies in the global war on terrorism and in the effort to promote the rights of all peoples to live in security and peace.

It is a source of great satisfaction for me that our relations continue to flourish in every sphere. Israel is convinced that the presence of good friends, such as the Czech Republic, inside the EU can help bring greater balance to European policy toward the Middle East, enabling the EU to play a constructive role in the peace efforts in our region.

I am pleased to relate, in this context, that Israel and the Czech Republic – and the EU as a whole – agree that the emergence of a responsible and democratically accountable Palestinian leadership is vitally important for all future peace efforts.

Israel and Europe also agree that the key to future progress in the peace process lies in promoting Palestinian financial and security reforms, and establishing effective Palestinian action against terrorism and incitement. We also agreed on the need to end Iran’s support of international terrorism and its ongoing attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Our region has suffered too much at the hands of the extremists. We must all do everything in our power now to strengthen the moderates. In this context, I also called today on my colleague to act within the EU to place Hizbullah on the European list of terrorist organizations. Hizbullah, through its promotion of Palestinian terrorism, is one of the leading forces threatening the effort to bring stability and calm to the Palestinian Authority. Europe has a central role to play in bringing this interference to an end.

Once again, let me say how pleased I am to have the opportunity to welcome Foreign Minister Svoboda to Jerusalem, and to wish him a pleasant and fruitful stay.

Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda: Thank you. [It is a pleasure] for me to be here in Jerusalem, in Israel to meet the parliamentarians, to meet Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, to meet your prime minister and I am going to meet your president, and Minister Olmert, so this is very fruitful and a very exhausting visit, because we need to have a real dialogue on all levels. I am here to deliver the message of peace, a message of the realistic peace. We do understand that the realistic peace means the needs and obligations on both sides, and EU as an entity is ready to collaborate both with the State of Israel. EU is a family of 25 countries. Sometimes it is very difficult to define the common position, but we will try to define the common position. It will be beneficial and contribute to achieving peace in the Middle East.

I am here also as a member of NATO, and NATO is playing a very important role in the Middle East. This is the second message I’m delivering to the State of Israel, that NATO is to play a bigger role in the Middle East because NATO is not just a military entity, it is also a political entity.

We believe that the peace and survival of a free and democratic Israel is essential for peace and survival of a free and democratic Europe. There is a linkage between the State of Israel and Europe, and this is also a part of my message. The relations between the State of Israel and the Czech Republic are outstanding; we appreciate all the responsible steps which have been done by the government, and we are just encouraging the government to go in the right direction for achieving peace and security in the region. We do understand that each state has the right to defend itself to create the security environment, because we take responsibility for our citizens. We fully understand that point, and we will be very helpful in achieving the peace, stability and security in the region.

So this is the message I’m delivering from Prague and from the European Union, and we are a friendly country, and we will stay in the same type of relations in the future. Thank you.

Q: Minister Svoboda, in your initial remarks about two hours ago, you said something to the effect that everyone has a right to defend itself. I’m not sure this remark was well taken because everybody gave it its own views. Now whom did you mean, did you speak about the Palestinians?

FM Svoboda: That was just a general remark, because this is the rule – that facing evil and danger, danger phenomenon in the society, we must fight for freedom and democracy. This is a model political commitment which is valid and just my general comment on that position, so I’m not going to make any differentiation. So this is the general rule. Because we had the experience of a totalitarian regime, we understand what it means to fight for democracy.

Q: Minister Shalom, what is the position of Israel on joining NATO; and one question for Minister Svoboda: If Israel is interested in such a step, would you support it or not?

FM Shalom: NATO is a very important organization. I met the Secretary General of NATO only a week ago, and we are doing everything we can in order to strengthen our relations with NATO. It is very important that the Czech Republic, as a very close ally of the State of Israel, will represent NATO after January 1st for the next two years. We would like to do everything we can in order to strengthen our relations with NATO. We’re trying to do everything in order to have a better understanding with NATO. I understand that NATO would like to have better relations with Israel as well, and we would like to see the Czechs are helping us in order to narrow the gaps, if they exist, although I am not so sure they exist, between Israel and NATO.

About full membership in NATO. As you know, we need two to tango, and I think we should do it one step at a time, with the European Union as well as with the NATO. I think as long as we cooperate with each other, we will move from cooperation to partnership and maybe, finally, will bring us to consider joining the NATO as full membership, if NATO would like us to join. But, still, I think it is premature.

FM Svoboda: There is really nothing to add. There are many levels of cooperation. The question of the full-fledged membership is not on the agenda today, so it will be maybe too early to something like that.

Q: Mister Minister, Israel demands to include the Hizbullah in the list of terrorist organizations. What do you think should be done in that matter?

FM Svoboda: We are thinking of putting Hamas on the list of the terrorist organizations, and we are trying to do the same as far as the Hizbullah is concerned, but we need to reach an acceptable solution within the EU for this be successful. But the position of the Czech Republic is, as I have said, in favor.

FM Shalom: First of all, I would like to thank you, Minister Svoboda, for having said today in our meeting  that the Czech Republic will do everything it can in order to put the Hizbullah on the European terrorist list. It is very encouraging. The Hizbullah is very much involved with terrorist attacks that were carried out recently here in Israel by all the Palestinian organizations, not only the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, but the Fatah as well. I think it would be a very positive signal to the moderates and a very strong signal to the extremists, that the Europeans are very determined, and I am very happy with this attitude of my colleague and friend, the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic.

Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, given the difficult history between Israel and the EU, what substantive steps are you prepared to take to commit your colleagues to take a bit more balanced approach from here forward?

FM Svoboda: It is a very different kind of history, and I can speak only about the history of the relations between the Czech Republic and Israel. When we were capable of controlling our own fate, we had excellent relations with the State of Israel. When we were under control of other powers, like Nazis or Communists, we had some downs in our relations with Israel. The atmosphere in my country is very positive and the relations are excellent because of the history of my country. I am not going to speak on behalf of the other countries because I have no mandate to speak on behalf of the other countries and relations with the State of Israel. Our intention is just to have excellent relations in the future based on trust and mutual understanding with a inaudible and to achieve the peace and stability and security in the region.