14-16 February 2006

The President of Israel and his wife were received this morning (14 February) with a full state ceremony by the President of Greece, Mr. Karolos Papoulias in the President´s Palace.

The Guard of Honor of the Greek President’s Palace and the military orchestra welcomed the President and his wife. After the playing of the two anthems the President of Israel and the President of Greece walked to the personal office of the President of Greece where they held a private meeting and afterwards a working meeting attended by Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who is participating in the President’s visit, and Greek government ministers.

The presidents discussed global issues, the developments in the Middle East, the relations between Israel and the Palestinians, especially after the elections in the Palestinian Authority, as well as the bilateral relations.

The President of Greece referred to the elections in the Palestinian Authority and said that their results present a danger that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will increase, and that it is necessary to find an immediate solution.

The President of Greece noted that Greece has a strategic interest in the Middle East and that his country is interested in helping to find a solution to the conflict. The Greek President added that the European Union had passed a message to the Hamas stating that they must cease the violence and terrorist activities and must recognize the State of Israel’s right of existence so that its citizens can live in security. If we cooperate with the Hamas, it will be on very limited conditions, said President Papoulias.

On the issue of Iran, the Greek President said that if Iran obtains an atom bomb, it is likely to be dangerous, especially as Iran is making declarations which are completely unacceptable.

The President of Greece expressed his satisfaction with the bilateral relations between the countries and stated his country’s wish to develop the trade and economic relations.

The President of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav, said that Israel is disappointed with the developments on the Palestinian front. "After 12 years during which we took historic steps towards the Palestinians with the aim of achieving peace – the Oslo Agreement, recognition of an independent Palestinian state within the framework of the Roadmap and the evacuation of 25 settlements from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria – we have not received any recompense."

President Katsav added that "the elections in the Palestinian Authority were not democratic because a terrorist organization with its own weapons participated in them. The Hamas must take responsibility of governmental continuity, must declare that it will continue from the same point that the process between Israel and the Palestinians stopped, must honour obligations given by Yassar Arafat and Abu Mazen and must stop the terror."

President Katsav said that he is concerned with the erosion in the statements of European leaders and said that the invitation by the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, to the Hamas is a basic mistake, because of the fear that the Hamas will regard this invitation as giving it legitimacy to continue with terrorism and with the non recognition of the State of Israel.

At the end of the meeting an agreement for cooperation in research and development between the two countries was signed by Minister Tzachi Hanegbi on behalf of the Government of Israel, and the Minister of Infrastructure of Greece in the presence of both presidents.

Afterwards President Katsav laid a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier, a monument at the foot of the Parliament building.

At noon the President of Israel met with the President of the Greek Parliament, Mrs.Anna Psarouda-Benaki, in her office in the Parliament.

President Katsav and the President of the Parliament discussed a variety of issues:  the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran´s attempts to obtain nuclear weapons, the situation in the Middle East and the bilateral relations.

The President of the Parliament informed President Katsav that every year Holocaust Day is commemorated in Greece and during the year, within the framework of the education program, the events of the Holocaust and its lessons are taught in the schools in order to educate the young generation.

The President of the Parliament presented the President of Israel with a gold medal as a token of appreciation of his important visit to Greece and of his being a Guest of Honour in the Parliament.

The wife of the President of Israel visited the Jewish school in Athens where she planted a tree on the occasion of Tu B’Shvat.  She also toured the Jewish Museum in Athens which describes the history of the Jewish people in Greece.

In the afternoon the President of Israel and his wife toured the Acropolis as well as the national archaeological museum in Athens.

The President and his wife were also guests of the Mayor of Athens, Ms. Dora Bakoyani, who presented President Katsav with the City of Athens Medal made of gold. The Mayor of Athens, who was today appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, said that both peoples had paid a heavy price because of hatred and emphasized that denial of the Holocaust is disgraceful.
This was her last event as Mayor, after which she handed in her resignation and was appointed Foreign Minister of Greece by the Greek Prime Minister.

In the evening the President of Greece held a State Dinner in honour of the President of Israel and his wife with the participation of the leadership of the Greek Government, academicians, head economists and businessmen.  The Presidents delivered addresses.
The President of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav met with the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Kostas Karamanlis, in his office (15 February).

President Katsav and Prime Minister Karamanlis discussed the bilateral relations but mainly the situation in the Middle East as a result of the Hamas’ victory in the elections in the Palestinian Authority, as well as Iran’s nuclear threat.

The Prime Minister of Greece, who was also present last night at the State Dinner together with the Ministers of his Government, said that he was most impressed by President Katsav´s address at the State Dinner.

The President praised the good relations which are developing between the two countries since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1990 and especially in the last few years. The President emphasised that meetings at the very highest level must be increased to ensure that there are no misunderstandings among friendly countries.

President Katsav outlined the steps taken by Israel towards the Palestinians in the last few years. The President noted that the election of the Hamas must not be regarded as a democratic process while its members carry weapons and it is regarded as a terrorist organization.

The Prime Minister of Greece said to the President that they hope that the future will bring security for the State of Israel alongside a democratic Palestinian state. He also enquired about the significance of the Hamas´ victory on the peace process. The President of Israel praised the Prime Minister of Greece for his government´s position and declarations which demand that the Hamas meets the three conditions designated by Quartet and the European Union.

The discussion between the two was friendly and warm. The two discussed at length the issue of Iran´s attempts to obtain nuclear weapons.

The President of the Parliament, Mrs. Anna Psarouda-Benaki gave a festive luncheon in honour of the President and his wife with the participation of Ministers and senior Members of Parliament.

The President also held separate discussions in his hotel with the Head of the Opposition, Mr. George Papandreo, the Head of the Communist Party, Ms. Alexandra (Aleka) Papriga and the Head of the Left and Green Parties, Mr. Alexandros Alavanos.

The President of Israel met in the afternoon with approximately 30 editors and senior reporters of the Greek media and answered their questions which dealt mainly with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the situation in the Middle East after the victory of the Hamas in the elections, the security fence, the Russian President´s invitation to the Hamas, Iran and the bilateral relations between the countries.

The wife of the President of Israel, Mrs. Gila Katsav, met with the wife of the Prime Minister, Mrs. Natasha Karamanli.  During their meeting they discussed mainly their activities on behalf of disabled children. Afterwards they visited the Beaky Museum which presents a survey of Greece´s history until the thirties of the previous century. Later Mrs. Katsav and Mrs. Armani toured the old city of Athens.

In the evening the Ambassador of Israel in Greece, Mr. Ram Aviary, and the heads of the Athens Jewish community held a reception in honour of the President and his wife with the participation of the President of Greece.
The President of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav, and his wife, Gila, accompanied by the President of Greece, Mr. Karolos Papoulias, left on a special visit to Thessaloniki (16 February). Before their departure a military state ceremony took place in the Presidential Palace in Athens.

In Thessaloniki the two Presidents held a moving memorial ceremony in commemoration of the 50,000 Holocaust victims from Thessaloniki at a monument which was erected in their memory in the centre of the city.

Many hundreds of members of the Jewish community and youth welcomed the Presidents calling "Welcome" and "Shalom" in Hebrew and proudly waving flags of Israel. The Chief Rabbi of Thessaloniki said the "El Malei Rahamim" and "Kaddish" prayers.

The Presidents placed wreaths at the foot of the monument and unveiled the memorial plaque inscribed on the monument.  The moving ceremony ended with a minute of silence and the playing of the two anthems.

Afterwards the two Presidents visited the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki.

The Minister for Macedonia, Mr. Georgios Kalantzis, who had been sworn in this morning within the framework of the change in the government made by the Prime Minister of Greece, hosted the President and his wife at a state luncheon, with the participation of the President of Greece, heads of the district, mayors and the Jewish leadership. The luncheon took place in the summer palace of the Greek kings.  President Katsav noted the good and warm relations existing between the two countries and thanked the President of Greece and the heads of the government for their warm reception.

President Katsav invited the President of Greece to pay a State Visit to Israel.

In the afternoon President Katsav and his wife, accompanied by the Minister for Macedonia, toured the archaeological site where the family of Alexander the Great, including his father Phillipus II and the son of Alexander are buried.

In the evening the President and his wife will be the guests of the well-known Greek singer, Gallikria, who is giving a special concert in their honour in her club in Athens.