Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev began a three-day trip to the region with a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City early on Thursday.
Prior to his arrival he told Channel 2, “Our country has never denied the rights of Israel or the Jewish people to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.”
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch welcomed Medvedev to Judaism's holiest prayer site.
The visit marks 25-years of diplomatic ties between Israel and Russia. While Medvedev is here, the two countries plan to sign agreements in agriculture, customs, high-tech and construction.
Medvedev will also meet later Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Friday he is due to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Jericho.
In September, Russia proposed to host a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu but it has not yet come to fruition.
Russian and Israeli leaders have met many times over the past two years in an effort to avoid military mishaps in Syria where Russia is involved in the fighting.
On Thursday morning, he visited President Reuven Rivlin. As the two sat in the reception room, they exchanged pleasantries and went the extra step of dropping a few words of each-other’s language.
Rivlin received concluded his effusive welcome with the word “Spasibo” which is thank you in Russian.
Medvedev, likewise, when concluding his brief remarks before the media was asked to leave so that the two could continue their discussion in relative privacy, said “Toda Raba” which also means thank you in Hebrew. Medvedev’s ten-member delegation that included Russian Embassy personnel, but excluded Russian journalists, remained in the room as did Zeev Elkin Minister for Jerusalem and Environmental Affairs who has accompanied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on trips to Russia,, senior members of Rivlin’s staff and senior representatives of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Rivlin thanked Medvedev for the warm welcome he had been accorded when he visited Moscow this past March.
Russia always had a significant role in the region, and now, more so than ever, said Rivlin. The two countries now face important challenges and opportunities and have to be ready for both, Rivlin continued.
After 25 years of renewed diplomatic relations he said, it was imperative to discuss all issues of mutual interest.
Medvedev, who earlier on had signed the guest book in Russian, while sitting at a round, glass topped table inlaid with mother of pearl that had once belonged to 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, thanked Rivlin for receiving him and his delegation and conveyed greetings from President Vladimir Putin.
He referenced the unique relationship between Russia and Israel and concurred with Rivlin about common challenges and opportunities that must be faced together.
Rivlin who likes to inject humor into most situations, told his guests that Israel had specially arranged a sunny day for them, and he hoped that when they returned to Russia they would send some rain to Israel. The Russians all laughed, and Medvedev said that he would take the request into consideration.
What could have been a diplomatic incident was avoided. One of the Russians present told The Jerusalem Post
Reporter to move from her permanent seat, because that row was reserved for the Russian delegation. No other foreign delegation has ever made such a request or issued such an order. There were three place cards in the row and the reporter queried the order, but the man, though soft spoken and polite, remained insistent. When the reporter complained, a Russian speaking member of the President’s staff offered to intercede, but the reporter decided not to spoil the meeting and went to sit on the other side of the room instead.
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