Colombian president warmly welcomed by Peres

Juan Manuel Santos Calderon, Israel's most loyal ally in Latin America, visits Jerusalem to bolster ties between two countries.

June 10, 2013 22:36
2 minute read.
President Shimon Peres and President Calderon of Colombia.

President Peres meets Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos Calderon. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

President Shimon Peres congratulated Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon on Monday for “achieving the impossible” – namely, finding a way to unite Colombia after decades of strife and terrorism which had divided the country.

Their meeting took place at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem and marked the third time that Santos, who arrived on Sunday, is visiting Israel. His two earlier visits were during two of his three ministerial capacities.

Peres referred specifically to the agreement which Santos had reached last August with FARC – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – which is the largest of the rebel guerilla groups.

“You are an important and influential visitor and a dear, true friend of Israel’s who seeks peace, and your visit will give impetus to the renewing and deepening of relations in the spheres of security, science, technology and agriculture,” Peres told his Colombian counterpart.

“You are deserving of all praise and admiration.”

Santos said that he was in Israel as the representative of 47 million Colombians who have the highest regard and affection for Israel. He said that he brought warm greetings from his people to the people of Israel “who have a right to happiness and a good life.”

Santos expressed his joy about the opportunity to once again return to Israel as president with his wife and children and enhance the already close relations in the spheres of commerce, innovation and politics.

Both Israel and Colombia have suffered lack of tolerance he said, and both countries have proved to be greater than the challenges confronting them.

“We can learn from each other,” Santos said, expressing confidence that both nations can overcome remaining obstacles.

When he looked at Israel, he said, he could see that the path to economic stability was through innovation.

Colombia – considered Israel’s closest ally in Latin America – was one of few nations that did not support the Palestinian bid for membership in the United Nations, opting to abstain from voting.

Colombia officially supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and during his visit, Santos intends to work with both sides in an attempt to facilitate their return to the negotiating table.

Last October, after receiving the Shalom Prize from the Latin American Chapter of the World Jewish Congress in recognition of his commitment to seeking peace for his country and worldwide, Santos acknowledged that, “Both the people here and the people in Israel have been seeking peace for decades.”

Immediately after Monday’s formal welcoming ceremony, Peres and Santos met behind closed doors for an in-depth discussion attended by government representatives from both nations.

In introducing Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett to Santos, Peres told the Colombian leader that “He’s a new minister and a very powerful man. You must be careful.”

Bennett’s perpetual trademark grin did not betray whether he was flattered or insulted.

The two presidents emerged from their working meeting to witness the signing of a free trade-zone agreement between Israel and Colombia, an air services agreement and a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in matters of innovation.

When some of the journalists present inquired what such innovation entailed, both Israeli and Colombian officials laughed and said it was a euphemism for continued trade in arms and military strategies. Israel has for several years been a major supplier of defense equipment to Colombia, and has sent strategists to help train Colombian military forces.

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