FM Liberman: In the Middle East and South America we are facing the same challenges, such as terrorism and oppression, from the axis of evil.
We are trying, first of all, to strengthen our bilateral relations. Colombia is our second largest trade partner in South America, after Brazil. We have long experience in fields like energy, but we are trying to develop ICT cooperation.
Press conference with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel Avigdor Liberman and Foreign Minister of Colombia Jaime Bermudez Merizalde
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to the press conference at the Foreign Ministry. Beinvenidos a la rueda de prensa en el Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores de Israel.
First we will hear two statements – one from the foreign minister of Colombia, one from the foreign minister of Israel – and then we will take a few questions from the journalists. Senior Ministro, por favor.
FM BERMUDEZ: Thank you, Minister Liberman. Thank you to the Israeli people, to your government and your staff. From a personal point of view, I’m so glad to be here. This is my first time, and I felt an extremely warm reception and friendship. I have to tell you, it’s been a very moving experience from my personal point of view, and I’m glad to be here, obviously with our ambassador but also with Mr. Luis Carlos Villegas, who is the director of the National Association of Business, which is a good sign that the private sector and the public sector can work together.
Mr. Minister, we are here because we would like to work harder on our relationship with Israel, on our friendship with Israel. We’ve done many things in the past. We’ve shared certain difficulties, we have suffered from terrorism, but we both, your people in your country, and our people in our country, have been so resilient. And I would say the future is bright for the two of us.
I have to confess that I’ve been reading this book, given to me by the ambassador, about "Israel, the Startup Nation", and I found it very illuminating because it really shows the potential that Israel has now, today and for the future. And we would like to share that potential. That’s the reason why we’ve been talking about the possibility of the two of us, the private sector and the public sector together, but also Israel and Colombia, working together on specific projects of innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital. This would be a good idea to be promoted for the coming years.
We have been also talking about the importance of closing the deals and agreements that we are just about to close, regarding tourism, cooperation in science, in sports, culture and so on, but also to enhance our institutional framework regarding trade, investment and commercial issues.
We are going back to Colombia, not just grateful and with admiration, but also determined to work harder during the months that we are going to remain in power, as President Uribe’s mandate expires in August, to get things done and also to tell the new government in Colombia that we should keep on working on the same track. There is a lot of potential and there is a lot to be done.
Thank you, Minister, again. And as you know, you can count on us – as good friends of Israel, of your people – you an count on the government of Colombia, any time, whatever our capacity might be in the future. Thank you, Minister.
FM LIBERMAN: Thank you very much. As the foreign minister just mentioned, at our meeting in the last year, we had a very long discussion about our bilateral relations and we spoke about the situation in the international community. In the Middle East and South America we are facing the same challenges, such as terrorism and oppression, from the axis of evil. I think that the relations between the two countries are very, very stable. And the most important thing is that we share the same values. And we respect the fact that there is a very small but very active Jewish community in Colombia, and their relations with the government are really excellent.
We are trying, first of all, to strengthen our bilateral relations. Colombia is our second largest trade partner in South America, after Brazil. We have long experience in fields like energy, but we are trying to develop ICT cooperation. We must sign some agreements between the two governments about dual taxation, investments, recession development and others in tourism. And I’m happy that we have established such strong and very close, very warm relations. And we hope to develop these relations further in the future. And of course, first of all, ICT will be our priority in our bilateral relations. We will be happy to continue our dialogue between the leaders, between foreign ministers. And I think that this kind of cooperation may be the best example of our cooperation with South America. Thank you.
Q: Good afternoon, Minister Bermudez. I would like to ask you a question about the situation on your continent. What is the level of tension now between your country and Venezuela? And later I’ll put a question to Mr. Liberman.
FM BERMUDEZ: Colombia is very strongly determined to have the best possible relationship with any of our neighboring countries. We have a long history with Venezuela, we admire the Venezuelan people, but we also have serious concerns. Our main enemy, and I would say the only two enemies we have, are narcotrafficking (drugs) and terrorism. And our main goal as a country and as a government, which is also our responsibility, is to defeat them both for good. Beyond that, we just want to have the best relationship we can afford to have with any neighboring country.
We are open to remaining in a direct dialogue with the Venezuelan government under certain circumstances – due respect, and as long as our national dignity is not affected – not just to take a picture of the two of us, the two presidents or the foreign ministers, no, to discuss serious issues, issues like security, issues like the way Venezuela imposed an embargo on Colombia and exports to Venezuela, and issues like the way a group of Colombians were treated once they were captured in Venezuela. Apart from that, we are open to any different alternatives to improve our relationship.
Just to give an example, we have asked countries like Spain, even Cuba, to suggest, to talk, to find a way to improve the situation. Not only that; after the Cancun Summits just two months ago, President Uribe agreed that some other friends, countries like the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Mexico, would serve as facilitators between Venezuela and Colombia. President Leonel Fernandez from the Dominican Republic went down to Colombia; he went also to the borderline. He met the community over there. But the day after, the statement coming from the other side of the borderline was so negative.
So the situation is difficult, but we remain under three main principles in this particular issue: we need to be firm to defend our national interests, but we need to be prudent so as not to fall into provocations, and also we need to be audacious to find more alternatives for the good of the two countries.
Q: My next question is to Minister Liberman. And with your permission, Minister Bermudez, I’ll ask my question in Hebrew.
[translation from Hebrew] Mr. Foreign Minister, are the proximity talks between us and the Palestinians really going to open – some say next week or within two weeks? Is there a date? Is there an agenda? What is about to happen in this area Mr. Minister?
FM LIBERMAN: In matters connected to the State of Israel we are prepared to open not only proximity talks, but also direct talks, and we said that a year ago. We don’t see any problem or any reason not to open the proximity talks, despite the fact that we have many quandaries and many questions about the conduct of the other side like, for example, the signing of a presidential order, just yesterday, to boycott Israeli telephone products. And from what I understand, most of the ministers of the Palestinian Authority will have to give up their Israeli cell phones and their SIM cards, which is unreasonable, just the way that it’s unreasonable to talk about peace while perpetuating terrorism, naming streets and plazas for blood thirsty terrorists who were responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent people, such as Yihye Ayash or Dalal Mugrabi. They murdered women and children, including foreign citizens, such as American and Dutch citizens. By its very nature, that raises many questions. I hope that the other side will come to its senses and that we’ll start a dialogue and we’ll be able to progress; not just to open a dialogue, but also to make progress.
Q: Is there a date?
FM LIBERMAN: There is no exact date, but my estimate is that we will open the talks within two weeks. [end translation]
Q: First question to Minister Bermudez. Speaking about the relations between the two countries, regarding the answer, that there are all kinds of deals, purchasing, upgrading arms training, stuff like that. Would you kindly comment on what is happening now, the picture today, between Israel and your country?
FM BERMUDEZ: Well, let me just say that we share the same interest, which is to defeat terrorism, and we need to cooperate, not only with each other but also with the entire international community. Colombia is a country that has suffered a lot for ages because of drugs and terrorism, and we have learned a lot. And we know that these kinds of crimes – drugs and terrorism – are multinational crimes. And the only way we can get rid of them for good is by international cooperation. So we ask this cooperation of any country in the world. And we can work, and we have worked, with Israel on this particular issue too. And, yes, there have been certain agreements for a long time, and we remain interested in further developing this particular issue.
But let me tell you this: our relationship today is much wider; that’s the reason why we are also talking here, basically, about innovation, cooperation, education, free trade, investment. Just to give you an example, this morning we had an excellent meeting with a group of Israeli investors. They are making and promoting a huge project in Colombia which is, I would say, as far as I understand, the biggest Israeli investment project taking place in Colombia today.
So, you see, the relationship is extremely wide, and we are interested in further developing all these issues.
Q: [translation from Hebrew] Mr. Liberman, several questions if I may. Next week, George Mitchell is scheduled to arrive. What are we going to say to him? Is he coming here after agreements will already have been made – you said within two weeks. Has something happened during this period that has changed the situation, enabling George Mitchell to come here and do something, or has nothing happened in the meantime and we will sit down and continue to talk? That’s one question. Next, with regard to the prime minister’s meeting with President Mubarak next week in Sharm, what is expected to be said there?
FM LIBERMAN: I think that the Palestinians have understood that there is no point in stalling and there is no reason to try to blackmail Israel because there will not be any more concessions. I think they have understood that we will insist on our interests and there will be no more concessions on our part, but only talks. And after they understood that we are strong enough to resist any pressure, they were wise enough to return to the talks.
With regard to Egypt, we have a regular dialogue with Egypt on all levels, among other things this coming meeting between the prime minister and President Mubarak. It’s not the first meeting. In this term of office as well, Egypt also has something to contribute in facilitating the dialogue or in formulating the dialogue with the Palestinians. I think that these meetings are good, they help to create a much better atmosphere for the talks.
Q: What’s this about the cell phones and the SIM cards?
FM LIBERMAN: Abu Mazen signed a presidential order forbidding the Palestinians to buy Israeli telephone products. In other words, residents of the Palestinian Authority are prohibited from buying Israeli SIM cards, Israeli devices or devices that are sold here in Israel. It seems extremely strange to me. It certainly does not indicate intentions for peace or cooperation and we think that it is simply one more sign of an economic boycott that is not consistent with the peace talks. So he will have to clarify for ourselves and I will also have to ask the Palestinians to clarify exactly what their intentions are.
Q: Can’t they buy SIM cards or bring telephones from Jordan?
FM LIBERMAN: I think they can buy them in Egypt, in Jordan, in Israel, but to issue a boycott, to sign a presidential order that specifically boycotts Israeli telephone products, that, as an indication, as a sign, is not good, just like the really bad indication of that death sentence for the Palestinian from Beit Omar who sold land to Jews. I think that all their other demands are not consistent with the death sentence for any Palestinian who sells land Jews.
Q: Will we close down the frequencies?
FM LIBERMAN: I think this is worth clarifying. The State of Israel is run according to humanitarian values, according to universal values, and when we gave the opportunity for a second Palestinian cell phone company to operate within the area of the Palestinian Authority, we gave more frequencies, and in exchange, we got the boycott of Israeli telephone products. That’s like when Israel enabled the daughter of the Hamas minister of the interior from Gaza to travel to Jordan for surgery, and they issued that animated film about Gilad Shalit, so I think there is no need for any additional commentary.
Q: A question for Mr. Liberman. You said that the Palestinians have understood that there will not be any more concessions by Israel. We have heard the declaration about Jerusalem. Can you say here that the other declarations – for example handing over territory from area C – these demands are also rejected by Israel?
FM LIBERMAN: There will be no more concessions. There will be negotiations. We are open to all the questions, all the issues, we are prepared to discuss anything, but there will be no concessions before mutual and binding agreements are achieved.
Q: How do you view the fact that Egyptian Foreign Minister Abu Gheit recently called the State of Israel an enemy state, and how will you respond to the statement by Abu Gheit that there is great panic in Lebanon for fear of an Israeli attack because of the publicity about the shipment of Scud missiles to Hizbullah?
FM LIBERMAN: I think that the shipment of smuggled Scud missiles to Hizbullah from Syria is a very grave matter. I listened closely to the words of American Secretary of Defense Gates at that same press conference, in which he said that Hizbullah has more missiles than most countries in the world. And I certainly think that that is worrisome. Israel has no intention of creating provocations or attacking or initiating any ill considered moves. Israel is a responsible state with a responsible and serious government. However, when you hear things that are not commentary here in Israel, when you hear the words of the American Secretary of Defense, it is definitely worrisome. And it is not just a threat to the stability of Israel but to the entire region. With regard to Egypt, we certainly accepted the explanations and the fact that next week the prime minister will be meeting with Mubarak in Egypt, that definitely satisfies us. [end translation]
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.