Rivlin tells Samoan PM he regrets missing visit to island nation

Rivlin explained that when he was Speaker of the Knesset, he had visited New Zealand, and from there had gone to Tonga. He would have liked to continue to Samoa, but the timing was prohibitive.

March 4, 2019 16:38
3 minute read.
President Reuven Rivlin (R) with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi of Samoa (L), March 4th

President Reuven Rivlin (R) with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi of Samoa (L), March 4th, 2019. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)


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President Reuven Rivlin, who has extensive knowledge about Samoa, on Monday told Samoan Prime Minister Susuga Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi that he deeply regretted not having visited his country.

Rivlin said that as Speaker of the Knesset, he had visited New Zealand, and from there had gone to Tonga.  He would have liked to continue to Samoa which is famous for its natural beauty, but there were no direct flights from Tonga. In order to reach Samoa, he would have had to fly back to New Zealand and then take another flight from New Zealand to Samoa. The time factor was prohibitive, he said.  It would have been akin to flying from Tel Aviv to New York.

Malielegaoi assured him that there are flights from Tel Aviv to Samoa, and said that Israel's ambassador could advise him which was the best way to come to Samoa.

Israel's ambassador to Samoa Itzhak Gerberg who accompanied Malielegaoi on this, his first visit to Israel, is non-resident and is stationed in Wellington, New Zealand, whereas New Zealand's ambassador to Israel is stationed in Ankara, Turkey.

Samoa does not have an ambassador to Israel, but maintains a consulate in Tel Aviv.

An economist by profession, Malielegaoi was elected to parliament in 1980 and served as finance minister in 1991 and 1996.  In 1998, after having served for two years as deputy prime minister, he became prime minister and has led his country ever since.

Remarking on the Samoan prime minister's lengthy period of service, Rivlin alluding to prime ministers David Ben Gurion and Benjamin Netanyahu said: "We also have veteran prime ministers, but you are much more veteran."

He also congratulated Malielegaoi on having signed a bilateral no-visa agreement with Netanyahu earlier in the day which allows for Samoans to come to Israel and Israelis to go to Samoa without having to worry about visas.

Israel and Samoa have enjoyed diplomatic relations since May, 1972 and have supported each other in United Nations committees and other international fora.

Despite occasional disputes and distance, said Rivlin, "we are good friends."

He praised Samoa's efforts in the realm of climate control, and also expressed admiration for the manner in which so small a country as Samoa deals with China where it has an embassy.

"We took a lot of models from you in our relations with China," said Rivlin, adding that as communications minister, he had been to China prior to the 2008 Olympic Games and had sold a satellite to the Chinese.  "They asked for ten," said Rivlin, "but I knew if we sold them one, they would quickly produce their own."

Even though Gerberg is a non-resident ambassador he has made a good impression on the Samoans, and Malielegaoi was warm in praising him.

Samoa will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its independence on June 23, and Malielegaoi in stating that Gerberg will be invited to the festivities, implied that Rivlin, if he chooses to come, will also be very welcome

Aware that Samoa is extremely interested in high tech and one of the leaders in this field among the Pacific island states,  Rivlin spoke of Israel's cyber center in Beersheba  which provides Israel with the ability to protect the economy and the business world, but also to know very quickly of impending dangers.  Israel had warned several countries around the globe about ISIS plans which it had intercepted through its cyber expertise.

"Cyber is the high tech of the decade," he declared.

Malielegaoi said that Samoa would like to share in Israel's cyber know-how in order to combat fake news, which he said is disseminated by people who want to destroy relationships.  "You are far, far ahead of any nation in your research that prevents intervention," he said.  "Israel is a great nation."

But for all that, Israel can't do something that Samoa did in December 2011, which also changed Samoa's calendar, causing it to miss a whole day when it switched the international dateline. West Samoa became East Samoa, and East Samoa became West Samoa, said Malielegaoi.  "But Jerusalem remained the center," quipped Rivlin.

The dateline move which caused Samoa to lose a whole calendar day, was a measure aimed  at improving its trade relations with New Zealand, and Australia by considerably reducing time differences between Samoa and its two major trading partners.

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