The Israeli foreign ministry will invest significant efforts in bolstering relations with small countries that have shown a positive attitude toward Israel.

Host: Good morning to our guest, Mr. Avigdor Liberman.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman: Good morning.

Host: The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted negatively to the statement made by Javier Solana. What do you think of what he said?

Minister Liberman: This is not about a "negative reaction" – that’s not the point. People facing retirement often come out with major statements, in an attempt to make a lasting impression. As everyone knows, at the end of this year Javier Solana is ending his long term of office on the European diplomatic scene, and therefore I would not read too much into his most recent statements. Let’s just wait until a new EU foreign policy chief is appointed.

For the first time in the European Union, two offices will be merged into one – the position of External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and the position of Javier Solana — High Representative for the Common and Foreign Security Policy. This will be a highly responsible position, with serious leverage. We must wait for the new appointment and then start working. This is just another statement made by Javier Solana. Experience has shown that a peace agreement can only be achieved by direct negotiations between the two parties involved. That was the case with Egypt and with Jordan, when Israel negotiated directly with its neighbors. Any attempt to coerce peace by third parties is pointless and doomed to fail. Peace has to be built and created; the conditions for it must first be created.

Host: You’ve already visited European Union countries in your capacity of foreign minister and spoken with your colleagues there – heads of European states and heads of the EU itself. In your opinion, what part is currently played by the EU in everything concerning processes in the Middle East?

Minister Liberman: I would say that the EU has given up on its function. Or, to put it differently, the EU fully supports the American policy, and therefore does not come up with any initiatives of its own. The EU sticks to a secondary role, and tries to tow the line of U.S. foreign policy. That said, one should keep in mind that elections for the European parliament have only recently been held, and we are now expecting domestic elections – first in Germany, then in the Czech Republic. Only then will a new EU parliament be assembled, and the new executive committee will go into action; then we might expect some change. But until the end of the year, in my opinion, we will not see any significant change or new initiatives from the European Parliament.

At the same time, it is amply clear to me that we must strengthen ties with our allies – small countries that have shown a positive attitude toward Israel. These countries have a different point of view, they see the situation in a more realistic and perspicacious way. The Israeli foreign ministry will invest significant efforts in bolstering relations with these countries. Each of the EU’s 27 nations has one vote. I believe that we should change our foreign policy to a certain extent. We are now in the last stages of drafting a detailed, important paper proposing changes in the foreign ministry’s activities, and I expect that in the coming month we will already be able to apply the new ideas.

Host: When you assumed the position of foreign minister you said you intended to develop operations on the Russia and Central Asia fronts. Has there been any progress in that direction?

Minister Liberman: We have good, ongoing ties with our colleagues in Russia, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. President Shimon Peres’ recent visits to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan were very successful. I intend to visit that region too, after the High Holidays. In addition, we are about to open a new embassy – in Turkmenistan.

Host: Could you tell me who will be appointed ambassador?

Minister Liberman: When the time comes, we’ll appoint an ambassador. At the moment we’re busy working. Next week I will be visiting South America. In the past, the foreign ministry had totally neglected the African continent and South America. Golda Meir was the last foreign minister to visit Africa. I think Shimon Peres was the last foreign minister to visit South America. It’s been many years since a formal visit was made by our foreign ministry. I am trying to revive contacts and expand the Ministry’s scope of operations. This is definitely a new direction.

Host: I’ll conclude our talk with a question about our neighbors. To what extent has Egypt changed its cool attitude toward us? What are our present relations with Jordan?

Minister Liberman: Contacts with Egypt are continuing full steam ahead. Yesterday we held meetings with the Egyptians, and next week the director general of the foreign office will be visiting Cairo. We fully support relations with Egypt. I have no intention of begging for an invitation or for a strong friendship, nor have I any intention of changing my opinions. I think we are very rational in our attitude and we will stand up for our interests regardless of any personal aspects.

Host: And what about Jordan?

Minister Liberman: The same goes for Jordan. I believe Israel should, on the one hand, stick to its own interests and foreign policy; and on the other hand not compromise on any issues to do with our national pride. Self respect and national pride are two important elements that comprise a country’s status and image. In recent years we have belittled these concepts, which is a shame, especially since we live in the Middle East. Therefore, we are taking a balanced stance, and I believe that is the optimal approach.