Laughter is not a usual component in ceremonies in which new ambassadors present their credentials to the president of the state.But there was a great deal of laughter when Russian Ambassador Sergey Yakovlevich Yakovlev came with his key staff members to the President’s Residence on Thursday.Yakovlev was the fourth of five new ambassadors who presented credentials to President Shimon Peres. The others were Nigeria’s David Oladipo Obasa, Finland’s Leena-Kaisa Mikkola, Philippines’ Generoso de Guzman Calonge and China’s Gao Yanping.After presenting his letters of credence and recall of his predecessor Piotr Stegny, Yakovlev introduced his team, each of whom, to the amazement of the President, spoke to him in Hebrew.When everyone sat down for the good-luck toast and brief tete-a-tete that the president conducts with each new ambassador, Peres said that he understood that the presidential election campaign was underway in Russia and suggested that one of the candidates should come to Israel where there is a large Russian electorate.It is fairly certain that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will return to the presidential office in which he previously served and that current President Dmitry Medvedev will become prime minister.Without naming either, or designating their current positions, Yakovlev replied that he had regards for Peres from both.There were giggles, but everyone in the room truly cracked up when Peres turned to Yakovlev and said: “I’m ashamed to ask, but how do you see peace in the Middle East?” Less than an hour earlier, the new Finnish ambassador had put much the same question to Peres.The fact of the matter is that Peres values Yakovlev’s expert knowledge of the people and politics of the region.Yakovlev is his country’s former special envoy to the Middle East.It is with this past experience that he hopes to make a contribution to Middle East peace in his new ambassadorial capacity. Peres noted that Russia is becoming an increasingly important player in the Middle East.For Obasa and Calonge, who each wore the national costumes of their respective countries, the presentation of credentials took second place to being able to actually meet with Peres. Each confessed to being a long-time admirer of the president. For Obasa, who while still a schoolboy, had learned about Peres, it was a very exciting moment.Calonge confessed that he never thought he would see the day when he would shake hands with one of Israel’s iconic figures and one of the country’s founding father’s and shapers of its history.He also thanked Peres for the “institutional protection” that Israel gives to Filipino workers, explaining that this is something they do not have in some other countries.Peres expressed appreciation for the devotion with which Filipino caregivers are looking after Israel’s sick and elderly, to which Calonge replied: “They’re ambassadors, just like me.”When speaking to Obasa, Peres said that Africa should be given a chance to recover from mistakes imposed on it under the rule of Empire and beyond.Africa is now beginning to take unity seriously, he added. Although there are still many problems to overcome, there is no reason why Africa should not flourish, Obasa continued, offering to put Israel’s know-how at Africa’s disposal, declaring that although Israel does not have much land or water, agriculture based on hi-tech gives yields which are 10 times as high as those of most other countries, utilizing half the amount of water.If Nigeria takes advantage of Israel’s offer, Peres continued, it can play an important role in bringing Africa out of the cycle of poverty.Obasa replied that Israel is a model for development for the whole world and that Nigeria appreciated Israel’s assistance in helping it to realize its potential. When asked to sign the visitors’ book, Obasa wrote his message in English, but signed his name in Hebrew.Peres could not help but recall during his conversation with Mikkola, a meeting of the Socialist-International that he attended in a Finnish sauna, that “it was the most naked political performance.”In more serious vein, Mikkola said that she had been positively surprised since coming to Israel to learn of the number of different activities between Israel and Finland, especially in the areas of hi-tech and innovation, and noted that both Israel and Finland are among the world’s leading countries for innovation.However, Finland has a long way to go before it catches up with Israel in the realm of Nobel Prizes, she conceded.“You have 10, we only have three,” she said as she congratulated Israel on the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, which will be awarded to Prof. Dan Shechtman.In response to her question about Middle East peace and the resumption of negotiations, Peres said that the best course is direct negotiations. “If negotiations are done publicly, it becomes an ongoing press conference,” he said.He said he preferred to have an opening and then to go underground and negotiate peace quietly, because “in peace negotiations you have to convince not only your opponent but your own people.”He was opposed to internationalizing the negotiations because he believes that this would only add to the conflict, rather than reduce it. Peres is convinced that if an end is brought to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict it will enable the Arabs to concentrate on their own future and development.Gao, when presenting her credentials, made her opening and closing remarks in Hebrew and spoke in English for the main part, thanking Peres in Hebrew for every compliment he gave her.She came with an invitation from President Hu Jintao for Peres to visit China next year during the 20th anniversary celebrations of Sino-Israel diplomatic ties.She hoped to enhance those already strong ties, she said. Gao was optimistic that the volume of trade between Israel and China would double from around $6 billion per annum to $12b. during her period of tenure.Peres told her that what China can do for the Middle East is to help eradicate poverty and hunger. China escaped poverty without American dollars or Russian rubles, he said. It was able to do this through the efforts of its people.“I’ve told some of my Arab friends to look at China,” he said.Alluding to the Palestinian request to the United Nations for recognition of statehood, Peres said that a declaration on a piece of paper was not good enough. Nor was the election of a new president and a new parliament. “You have to elect a new way of life,” he said.“Just changing personalities won’t do the job. You have to change the message,” he added, as he reiterated his request that China help the Arabs to escape division, violence, poverty, unemployment and oppression.