Homeland security, scientific cooperation and Middle East peace were the key topics in individual discussions that President Shimon Peres held on Tuesday with five new envoys following the presentation of their credentials.

The quintet consisted of Croatian Ambassador Pjer Simunoviç, Swiss Ambassador Andreas Bau, Indian Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar, Belgian Ambassador Count John Cornet d’Elzius and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto.

The papal nuncio conveyed the greetings of Pope Benedict XVI. Peres replied that he was happy to see that the pope was tweeting regularly.

If he were to tweet back, said Peres, his message would be: “We have the highest level of relations between Israel and the Holy See.” Later in the day, Peres sent a message by Twitter to the pope, welcoming him to the Twitter community.

Peres recalled that in 1993, when he was foreign minister, he had become involved in dialogue with the Vatican with regard to the signing of a treaty regarding property taxes and the status of the Church in Israel. The treaty is only now on the way to being finalized, explained Peres, because Israel realized that if it gave special privileges to the Church it would have to adopt the same policies with regard to all faiths, and the fine details of that had to be worked out carefully.

Israel is doing everything possible to ensure that the Christian community has complete freedom of worship, which is not an easy thing in the Middle East, said Peres. “We want all religions to be free to worship in their own way without interference.”

Lazzarotto said that he hoped to be able to make positive contribution to the dialogue between Israel and the Holy See, and suggested that the best way to do this was to look for common ground and from this path to work together toward peace.

Peres told him that there has been a new attempt by the heads of three monotheistic faiths to make peace not only among governments but among people. Israel’s chief rabbis along with the heads of the Christian and Muslim communities are participating in this venture, “and the tone is positive,” the president said.

In his conversations with the other envoys, Peres made the point that security is no longer a matter of clashes between state parties, but has become the prerogative of terrorists who pose a threat to every country in the world.

For this reason he explained, there has to be increased bilateral and multilateral cooperation on matters of homeland security.

In other areas of cooperation, Peres gave priority to scientific cooperation as an engineer for economic growth.

Simunoviç said that he sees tremendous potential for cooperation with Israel on several levels, and noted that Israeli hi-tech companies operating in his country have already provided many jobs for qualified Croatians.

Simunoviç visited Israel many times in his previous capacity as assistant foreign minister, and the Foreign Ministry’s national coordinator for NATO, and before that as state secretary in Croatia’s Defense Ministry.

Simunoviç said he felt honored and privileged to be serving in Israel: “I grew up thinking of Israel as the miracle in the desert.” He also said that security and peace for Israel is the linchpin of Croatia’s foreign policy.

Peres congratulated Simunoviç on Croatia’s upcoming accession to the European Union next July.

“For us it was a strong strategic ambition to become the 28th member of the EU,” Simunoviç said with satisfaction.

Bau was a medical doctor before entering his country’s foreign service. He decided 20 years ago that medicine was not the right career for him, and he really didn’t like hospitals.

He came to Jerusalem with a request from his country’s President Eveline Widmer- Schlumpf for a bilateral meeting when Peres attends the world economic Forum in Davos next month.

Peres said that despite certain disagreements stemming from Switzerland’s basic foreign policy, relations between the two countries have improved. Acknowledging the divergent views, Bau said that they should be addressed with openness, transparency, respect and understanding.

In meetings between the foreign ministers of the two countries, he said, 12 areas of cooperation had been defined, the most common of which was the fight against racism.

Bau said that Switzerland welcomed the cease-fire that put an end to the recent Gaza conflict, and saw the two-state solution as the only viable way to peace in the region. As for the upgrading of the Palestinian status at the United Nations, Bau voiced the hope that it would serve as a catalyst for the relaunch of talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The expansion of settlements is not constructive, he said.

He asked Peres to suggest a way in which peace negotiation’s could be resumed.

The president’s formula was to forget about mutual accusations and recriminations and to simply move forward.

Bau was also interested in the president’s views on other Middle East developments.

Peres said that as an outcome of the revolutions in various countries dictators have been removed, but the economies have not changed because women have not been given equal rights. If women were given equal rights, they could make a significant contribution to economic security, he said.

Israel’s basic wish, he said, is for the Arab nations to be successful in modernizing themselves and escaping poverty.

Peres welcomed Sarkar as the representative of “the largest democracy on earth” and said that India could serve as a role model for countries of the Middle East on how to emerge from poverty and to become a major country with a great economy and political strength. He also commented on India’s excellent scientific record. But what impressed him most was how a nation with a population that comes from so many faiths and traditions can live together in harmony. “India demonstrates both depth and strength of tolerance,” said Peres.

Sarkar replied that India is striving for economic and social salvation within a democratic framework.

“Within a generation we can banish poverty from our land and serve as an example to other countries as a people of different faiths and cultures working and living in harmony,” he said.

Sarkar said that India and Israel were two countries working together to further global peace. Commending Peres for his many years as a peace activist, Sarkar said: “It takes courage to walk the high road of peace.”

Cornet d’Elzius, though a career diplomat, has also served as a counsellor to heir apparent Prince Philippe, brought regards from King Albert II, plus an invitation for Peres to attend a November 2013 symposium on Science and Peace to mark the beginning of the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

Peres accepted the invitation in principle, but said that he couldn’t tell what would happen that far ahead. Meanwhile, he has been invited by the European Council to come to Belgium in March, to talk about globality and the changes in norms that have resulted from it.

Cornet D’Elzius told Peres that King Albert had been extremely moved last week when he inaugurated a Holocaust and Human Rights Museum opposite the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen from which more than 25,000 Jews and 352 gypsies had been deported to Auschwitz.

Cornet D’Elzius said that he has been very warmly received since coming to Israel, especially by the Belgian community here that numbers some 8,000 people.

The Belgian Association in Israel organized a reception for him that was attended by retired officers of the Belgian Army who are now living in Israel. Among them were two 92-year-old soldiers who helped liberate Belgium during World War II.

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