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(photo credit: AP)
When British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sat down for a working meeting with President Shimon Peres, there was no need for the latter to try to convince Brown that economics is a major stepping stone towards peace in the region.
Brown, who served as chancellor of the exchequer, said, "Every child should have the best start in life. Everybody should have the chance of a job and nobody should be brought up suffering in poverty."
In praising Brown for ushering in Britain's longest period of growth and prosperity, Peres also lauded Brown's philosophy - which he said fit in perfectly with Israel's regarding the region.
Calling Brown "one of the most respected leaders of our time," Peres said that Brown probably understood the Middle East better than most other people. Brown said that he had been brought up on the history of Israel, and was aware of the immense contribution that Peres had made to the development of the country. He was looking forward to welcoming him when Peres pays an official visit to Britain later this year, he said.
Brown, who is in Israel for his fourth visit, but his first at prime minister, said he had come primarily to strengthen trade and cultural links, and also to talk about the contribution that Britain could make to the peace process by helping ensure both Israel's security and that the Palestinians have an economically viable state. This was possible, he envisaged, by constructing an "economic road map" for peace.
He talked about developing industry and housing together with Israel and the Palestinian Administration.
He said that Britain wanted to build economic links that would enable the region's populations to live side by side and work together. Noting that Peres has shown how economics could bind people together, Brown said: "We want to be part of that vision."
In outlining his vision for the benefit of the business delegation, Peres said: "What can change the Middle East is a new economy." The president emphasized that the vehicle for change should not be military might, but economic strength. "It's not just a wish, it's a must," he said. "I don't think we can have peace without the economic dimension."
Citing water and energy as two of the most important fields for regional cooperation, Peres said: "Foolish people are ready to pay more for oil and less for the sun." Harnessing solar energy would be more costly in the initial stages, he acknowledged, but in the long-run, he predicted, would be less expensive.
In a closed-door discussion with Brown, Peres also said that Iran was developing nuclear armaments with the object of imposing its extremist religious rule on the entire Middle East.