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Slovakia is the second member of the UN Security Council this week to pledge diplomatic support for Israel's efforts to stymie Iran's drive to develop nuclear weapons.
Slovakian Foreign Minister Jan Kubis said his country stood behind Israel on the issue, in meetings in Jerusalem with officials and politicians on Tuesday and Wednesday, including his counterpart, Tzipi Livni, and former deputy defense minister MK Ephraim Sneh.
"I was able to confirm that the position of Israel and the position of my country are very similar," Kubis told The Jerusalem Post.
On Monday, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi also backed Israel's diplomatic efforts against Iran's nuclear program, particularly the use of sanctions.
Both Slovakia and Italy have two year seats on the 15-member council. Slovakia completes its term at the end this year, and Italy in 2008.
Kubis said his country had been instrumental in passing anti-Iran resolutions in the UN even though Slovakia had diplomatic relations with Teheran.
The way forward, he said, was a two-track approach of negotiations and sanctions.
"We would like to be sure that whatever is happening, Iran is not creating a potential that would lead to nuclear weapons," said Kubis. "We are in favor of negotiated solutions," but when they do not work, Slovakia does not "hesitate to show our displeasure publicly, individually, in the EU and on the Security Council," he said.
His government is of the opinion that anything that permits the spread of nuclear weapons is dangerous. "We are strong believers in nuclear nonproliferation," he said.
But most of his three-day visit to Israel, his first, focused on gaining a better understanding of the facts on the ground. He even traveled to Sderot to see firsthand the town that has been under almost continual fire from Kassam rockets.
In Ramallah, he met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. He promised to support their government in the EU and to seek ways to back it, including with developmental and financial assistance.
"I delivered a message of support. I said we will be working not only individually but also as a member of the Security Council and of the European Union," Kubis said.
He also had no problem telling the Palestinians: "We proudly consider ourselves to be friends of Israel."
"We show this everywhere," he said.
The link between the two countries was tied both to the past and the present, Kubis said. Jews have lived in his country since the 11th century. Among the more famous Jewish residents of Slovakia was the scholar Rabbi Moses Sofer (1962-1839), who is more widely known as the Hatam Sofer.
Kubis lives near Bratislava's Museum of Jewish Culture and in the area that once housed the Jewish Quarter. He is only too aware of what his country has lost because of anti-Semitism.
Before WWII, Slovakia was home to 135,000 Jews; somewhere between 3,000 and 8,000 remain.
"I believe that because of these long ties and checkered history, we have certain duties to be very sensitive to the fate of Israel," Kubus said.
Sitting by the illuminated walls of Jerusalem's Old City, he said: "There is a certain feeling of justice that is underpinning this kind of relationship. Here I may be a bit personal, because of the Holocaust, because of what we lost in that tragic period.
"I am from Bratislava. It is the capital, and before WWII we had a whole Jewish community. Now I live in the Jewish Quarter; it doesn't exist anymore. There is just a cultural monument here and there, and that is all, and that is a tragedy," he said.
Among the places he made sure was on his itinerary was Yad Vashem.
Even though he fully expected it to make a deep impression on him, he said he was still shocked by the suffering and the brutality that was evident in the displays.
"One can only be ashamed that there was not enough courage to put a stop this and to prevent it," he said.
But the past, he said, was just one of the reasons why Slovakia and Israel, as modern nations with similar values, should have strong ties.
Both Israel and Slovakia, which became independent in 1993, were newly emerging nations that were looking to strengthen their economic relations, he said.
He said trade between the two was small, amounting to $50 million to $60m. per year, but he would like that to increase. In particular, he hopes Israelis will invest in his country.
"We hope that eventually there will be enough movement on both sides that would bring more results with regard to economic cooperation," Kubis said.
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