President Shimon Peres expressed hope on Tuesday that the tripartite meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Barack Obama would lead to the resumption of Middle East peace talks.
"In several hours, our prime minister will meet with the US president and with Abbas, and will purposely be absent from a UN meeting attended by one of the most terrible men of our time - [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad," the president said during a visit at the Kaduri Agricultural School in the North.
"All sides have tried to lower expectations from the meeting, but the expectations for peace are always high - I hope the meeting will lead to continued negotiations," Peres said.
Peres went on to back the prime minister's decision to deny PA preconditions for resuming the peace talks.
"I think it would be a mistake for the Palestinians to announce that east Jerusalem is a settlement before the negotiations begin. It will not happen and hasn't happened in the past," the president said.
Just prior to leaving for the United Nations on Monday, senior diplomatic officials said Tuesday's tripartite meeting in New York would serve as the "kick-off" to a renewed diplomatic process, even though negotiations with the Palestinians would not be launched at that time.
The White House, meanwhile, tamped down expectations about the meeting between Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas. "We have no grand expectations out of one meeting," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs Monday, saying only that it would be an important way to continue "the hard work, day-to-day diplomacy that has to be done to seek a lasting peace."
Also Tuesday, Peres harshly criticized Ahmadinejad and his regime on Tuesday, and said he was certain Netanyahu would give the Iranian leader what he deserved.
The Iranian leader is "a man who denies the Holocaust, a man of dark words and a bearer of bad news, a man without a future," said Peres.
The president went on to tell the students that "the world isn't looking for negativity, it seeks hope. I'm sure Netanyahu will give [Ahmadinejad] what he deserves."
Netanyahu, who arrived in New York on Monday, has announced that he will not be present when Ahmadinejad addresses the opening session of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, to avoid being in the same hall as the Iranian president. The prime minister is scheduled to address the gathering on Thursday.
On Monday, Ahmadinejad said he was proud that the West was outraged by his denial of the Holocaust, according to Iran's state news agency. The EU, UK, US and Russia condemned Ahmadinejad's speech on Friday, during which he the Iranian president reiterated his doubts about the Holocaust, saying it "a false pretext to create Israel."
Herb Keinon and Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report