After landing in New York on Sunday, President Shimon Peres, who is on his way to Washington to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Barack Obama, said that in effect the medal belongs to the State of Israel and that he will accept it in the capacity as his country’s messenger.
“I have come here as the representative of the whole of the State of Israel to say thank you for the great friendship that America has demonstrated towards Israel. It is my intention to speak to senior members of the administration and of the defense establishment about strengthening the existing deep strategic ties between our two countries, and of ways to prevent Iran from progressing with its nuclear program.”
Peres said that he would also discuss the most recent developments in the Middle East, specifically Syria, but would also focus on the possibility of resuming the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
As he departed from Israel on Saturday night, Peres told Israel Radio that the democratic world has not done enough to intervene in the wholesale slaughter affecting Syria.
“It was a shocking thing to see the atrocities taking place in Syria on a daily basis, especially the brutal killing of innocent children and women,” Peres said, urging the international community to unite and prevent further bloodshed.
“I admire the opposition to the Syrian government which continues to go out into the streets every day knowing that its members could walk straight into the line of fire,” he said.
Peres will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday, and as the time draws nearer, a number of dignitaries and celebrities from across the political spectrum are petitioning Peres to convey that the medal, America’s highest civilian award, loses its meaning if convicted spy Jonathan Pollard remains imprisoned.
Each Israeli president and prime minister who has visited the US over the past 25 years has pleaded for Pollard to be released. More recently, such requests are accompanied by a plea that Pollard’s sentence be commuted for humanitarian reasons because of the serious deterioration in his health.
So far, US officials have not heeded those calls.