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In a new initiative, President Shimon Peres wants to set up a council of developing countries that have binational agreements with Israel, with the aim of expanding research and development in science and technology for the mutual benefit of all member states.
Peres shared these ideas on Wednesday with four new ambassadors who came to Jerusalem to present their credentials.
Although the concept has been in the works for some time, it is not yet common knowledge.
Peres floated the idea on Wednesday at separate meetings with ambassadors Ivo Hlavacek of the Slovak Republic, Navtej Singh Sarna of India, Marica Matkovic of Croatia and Oybek Eshonov of Uzbekistan.
All four expressed interest, though Hlavacek, a lawyer by training, was somewhat cautious and said he would have to hear more.
Meanwhile, Peres, who is intently focused on the council, will raise the matter at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week during meetings with world leaders and heads of major companies.
Hamas and Gaza, while alluded to in the four conversations, were never actually mentioned, nor was Iran.
As the president explained initially to Hlavacek, he is keen on forming the council because agreements between governments are little more than just that.
"Now, it has to be both private and public," Peres said, "because governments have budgets, but they don't have money."
The plan, in principle, is to set up a series of foundations as offshoots of the council so that profits coming out of specific R&D in which individual foundations have invested will be returned in part to those foundations.
Israel has some experience in this field and would be willing to help other countries get started, said Peres.
"We need new technologies and new ideas," Hlavacek acknowledged, adding that his duties included persuading Israelis to invest in Slovakia or enter into joint ventures with Slovakian businesspeople. Korea and France have heavy investments in Slovakia, he disclosed.
At his meeting with Sarna, Peres placed more emphasis on the need for more sophisticated weaponry to fight terrorism.
"Science can become a major subject on our agenda," he said. "Our problems are quite similar. You need high tech and we need high tech to produce food and water and to fight the dangers of terror. For that, you don't need large armies or troops, but sophisticated weapons. In this, we can really cooperate."
Peres noted that war was no longer limited to front line confrontations.
"Now the call is for homeland security. We need to defend ourselves against terror and violence. All of us are targets, and the only way to handle this is through high tech, which defends the defenders."
There is tremendous interest in science and technology in India, as well as considerable defense cooperation with Israel, said Sarna.
On the economic front, Sarna proudly reported that despite the downturn all over the world, India was doing better than in the previous year, and excluding defense, trade figures were approaching $3.5 billion. However, 60 percent of this was in diamonds, he said, "so we have to move on and create new products and new areas of cooperation."
Three of the four ambassadors conveyed invitations from their presidents for Peres to visit their countries. He will be going to Uzbekistan later this year.
Matkovic gave him two important reasons for including Croatia in his 2009 travel itinerary. First, Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, whom Peres has met several times and for whom he has expressed great admiration, is concluding his second term and wants to host Peres before he leaves office. Second, the Croatian Academic Association in Split has named Peres as the Person of Dialogue and Peace for 2008 and wants to present the award to him in Croatia rather than in Israel.
Eshonov expressed his country's appreciation for the help Israel had given to more 10,000 people from Uzbekistan through a variety of training programs run by Mashav, the international cooperation division of the Foreign Ministry. He also thanked Peres for his contribution to the development of relations between Uzbekistan and Israel. In Uzbekistan, he said, Peres was regarded as one of the greatest politicians and statesmen in the world and as having contributed greatly to international dialogue.
Eshonov recalled that when President Islom Karimov had come to Israel in 1992, he had taken pride in the fact that there had never been any anti-Semitism in his country. Even though diplomatic relations between Uzbekistan and Israel had been formed only 16 years ago, said Eshonov, relations with the Jewish community went back more than 2,000 years.
Peres, who first visited Uzbekistan in 1994, said Israel was aware not only that Jews had lived in harmony for so long in a predominantly Muslim country, but also that Uzbekistan had saved Jews during World War II, "and we will never forget that."
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