Nostalgia dominates presentations of credentials

Ambassadors from Netherlands, Argentina, Austria and Slovenia begin their foreign service in Israel by meeting with Peres.

Peres meets diplomat families 311 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Peres meets diplomat families 311
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
For a man who frequently declares that the future is much more important than the past, President Shimon Peres allowed himself several lapses on Wednesday when accepting the credentials of four new ambassadors.
Peres waxed nostalgic over former national leaders, an Israeli hero and the “unbelievable” greenery of Slovenia.
The four ambassadors presenting credentials were Caspar Veldkamp of the Netherlands, Carlos Faustino Garcia of Argentina, Franz Josef Kuglitsch of Austria and Alenka Suhadolnik of Slovenia.
All four were accompanied by senior embassy staff, three came with spouses and only Veldkamp brought his four children, who proved to be great icebreakers with Peres, although the gregarious Veldkamp could have managed quite well without them.
Peres asked each of them their name, their age, where they went to school and what class they were in. He was absolutely delighted to learn that one of the boys has a first name almost identical to his own.
He was equally charmed when meeting Garcia’s wife and learning that her maiden name was the same as his surname with the difference that she spells it with a “z.”
Veldkamp brought greetings from Queen Beatrix, and Peres in turn told him that Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion had been a great admirer of the queen’s late mother Queen Juliana.
Peres also thanked Veldkamp for Holland’s support of Israel, especially in matters pertaining to Iran. In addition, he lauded the Netherlands for the important role it has played in irrigation in the Middle East and recalled that the first conference on water in the Middle East had been in Holland with the participation of Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli representatives.
“We’re all short of water,” said Peres, emphasizing a salient point on which there is cooperation between the three groups.
Veldkamp expressed the hope that the meeting between Israelis and Palestinians in Amman on this week would bear fruit and bring a new impetus to the region. The Netherlands wants to develop relations with the whole region, he said, and this can be enhanced with the positive development of the peace process.
There is a certain rivalry between European ambassadors, who each try to prove that their country is Israel’s closest friend in Europe.
Veldkamp was no exception in this regard and told Peres that the Netherlands are one of Israel’s best friends in Europe if not the world.
Veldkamp was particularly pleased that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will pay a two-day visit to the Netherlands on January 18.
Most new ambassadors tell Peres that they want to enhance relations between their country and Israel, but Veldkamp went a step further by saying he did not want to limit himself to strengthening government-to-government ties. What he was looking to do was to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the private sector so that Dutch and Israeli business people could join hands in entering markets in Asia and South America.
At his meeting with Garcia, Peres voiced concern for the well-being of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who was undergoing surgery for thyroid cancer almost as they spoke. Garcia said that the whole thing was very sudden. She had gone for a regular check-up a little over a week ago, and the result turned out to be more serious than expected. However the medical prognosis is good, he said.
Peres said that he had sent a letter to Kirchner wishing her well, but he wanted the ambassador to tell her that she was being prayed for in Jerusalem. Peres met her a few months ago in Venice and she had told him that she would endorse the Mercosur free-trade agreement between Israel and the South American common market.
She did so as soon as she returned home, said Peres, and the agreement was officially ratified in August.
In discussing the respective economies of their two countries, Garcia said that there had been a difficult economic crisis some ten years ago, proving that there was a need for some kind of safety net to protect those on the low socioeconomic rung of the ladder. Peres and Garcia jocularly competed with each other for crisis brinkmanship, trying to determine who had which crisis first, with Peres noting that when he became prime minister the first time around in 1984, inflation was in excess of 400 percent.
For Argentina, there were also other non-economic crises, such as the bombing of the Israel embassy in 1992 followed by the terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish Community Center in 1994 with scores of people killed and hundreds injured. Iran has been suspected of being behind the attacks, and Peres thanked Garcia for Argentina’s expulsion of Iranian diplomats.
“We appreciate the position you took and the clear voice with which you spoke,” said Peres.
For Austria’s Franz Josef Kuglitsch, a career diplomat, who this year celebrates his 30th anniversary in the foreign service of his country, this is his first time in Israel, though as he told Peres, he did serve in the neighborhood early in his career. He spent seven months in Damascus in 1983-84, and was in Tunisia from 1987-1990.
“Syria has changed a lot,” commented Peres, to which Kuglitsch responded, “I wouldn’t say so.”
Peres asked whether, during his period in Tunisia, Kuglitsch had foreseen the changes, which have taken place. There had no inkling at that time, but Kuglitsch had found Tunisia to be an interesting place.
He subsequently spent seven years working with Javier Solana in Brussels.
Solana, who preceded Catherine Ashton as the European Union’s High Representative for Common and Foreign Security Policy, was a frequent visitor to Israel and deeply involved in efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.