"Jerusalem salutes you with every honor and respect," President Shimon Peres told Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, at a welcome reception at Beit Hanassi on Sunday morning.
Peres believes that Israel made a serious mistake by paying insufficient attention to African states in recent years, while China, Russia and India exerted ever-increasing influence throughout the African continent. He met Johnson-Sirleaf at an international gathering in Tokyo, prior to his election to the presidency, and invited her to visit Israel.
The invitation was cemented by the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center, an extension of Mashav (the Foreign Ministry-operated official body for international cooperation), which invited her to participate in its biennial International Women's Leadership Conference.
Johnson-Sirleaf will see more of Peres than other visiting heads of state.
Following the official welcome on Sunday, Peres had a private discussion with her, after which they drove together to the Jerusalem helipad to fly to Beersheba for the annual commemoration ceremonies for Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben Gurion.
Johnson-Sirleaf is due to meet Peres again Monday evening when he hosts a state dinner in her honor.
Peres hailed Johnson-Sirleaf's visit as "an opportunity to express our identification with Liberia" and noted that not only was she the first woman president of Liberia, but also the first woman in Africa to be elected as a head of state.
He paid tribute to her enormous knowledge and understanding as well as her ongoing dedication to peace and democracy. "You come here after a harsh period of terrorism and other difficulties in your country," he said, observing that "while men deal with terrorism, women are active in democracy - and that's why I support women."
Reiterating Israel's "warm feelings" towards Liberia, Peres said that while Israel may not be a country affluent with funds, "we are affluent with knowledge which we will be happy to share with you."
An economist and banker by profession, Johnson-Sirleaf, speaking with a slight American twang acquired during the years in which she studied at Madison Business College, Wisconsin, the University of Colorado and Harvard, said that she was particularly pleased to be in the "historic city of Jerusalem with which we all seek to establish relationships."
Liberia and Israel have had good relations, she said, but conflicts which our people experienced caused a period of inactivity."
Liberia, like Israel, has had conflicts with its neighbors, she said, but has entered into a process of unity, reconciliation, reconstruction and renewal. "We are seeking good relations with all nations of the world," she said, and looked forward to strengthening relations with Israel. She also hoped that Liberia could be an influence for peace, in a small way, not only in the Middle East but throughout the world.
She was happy to meet Israeli women leaders as well as those from around the globe, and to join in discussions on the enhancement of women's roles in society.
She is a founding member of the International Institute for Women in Political Leadership and prior to becoming president was a member of the advisory board of the Modern Africa Growth and Investment Company; a member of the finance committee of the Modern Africa Fund Managers; president of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment; president of the Kormah Development and Investment Corporation; senior loan officer of the World Bank; and vice president of Citibank.
On Tuesday she is scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding in Tel Aviv with Moti Ganz, chairman of the Israel Diamond Institute, aimed at fostering increased bilateral cooperation between the diamond industries of both countries.
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