(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Confessing she was a bit overwhelmed initially, Acting President and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik nonetheless came through her first encounter with the procedures involved in her new office with aplomb, receiving the credentials of four new ambassadors on Wednesday.
They were Pedro Motta Pinto Coelho of Brazil; Piotr Vladimorovich Stegniy of Russia; Juan Hurtadocano of Colombia; and non-resident London-based Tamsir Jallow of Gambia, who came in his country's national costume.
Itzik chose to stand on the very edge of the Oriental carpet where the ceremony took place - in contrast with President Moshe Katsav's tendency to distance himself a bit from the envoys and their entourages - and seemed to almost pull the diplomats forward.
Instead of staring stolidly ahead as Katsav used to when the Foreign Ministry's Chief of Protocol Yitzhak Eldan introduced each new ambassador to the receiving line standing at the rear end of the carpet, Itzik kept looking around curiously to see what was happening.
Speaking to the ambassadors, Itzik stressed the importance of the need to return Israel's kidnapped soldiers and raised the subject of the Iranian threat. "We need actions, not just words, from the international community," she said.
Turning to the new PA unity government, Itzik said that Israel cannot talk to a government that refuses to recognize her and whose prime minister advocates ongoing violence against Israel. "We will not give Hamas the license to kill," she declared.
Itzik and Coelho concurred on the importance of increasing cooperation, especially with regard to space programs, culture and education. Brazil is Israel's largest economic partner in South America, with an annual trade volume of $720 million. Coelho told Itzik that Brazil has a very strong, 180,000-member Jewish community which enjoys good relations with the government.
In her conversation with Stegniy, Itzik spoke of the significance of Russia as a central player in the region and of Israel's desire to develop more in-depth political dialogue and cooperation with Russia, a country that has the power to be effective regarding both the Iranians and the kidnapped soldiers. She expressed Israel's appreciation for what President Vladimir Putin has done and continues to do in both areas.
There were questions regarding what would happen at Beit Hanassi on Independence Day, which coincides with the expiration of Katsav's three-month suspension period.
He could conceivably return to Beit Hanassi on that day, as his hearing with the attorney-general is not till the first week of May. Or he may ask for an extension of his leave of absence, which if granted would extended Itzik's period as acting president.
Meanwhile Itzik is getting ready to host UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon when he arrives here next week. Two days later she will participate in memorial ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Israel's sixth president Chaim Herzog, and will welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the beginning of the following week.
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