Pope encouraged by start of direct negotiations

Iran predicts peace talks will fail, urges Muslims to rally in support of the Palestinians on "International Quds Day."

Peres Pope Vatican 311 (photo credit: L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO)
Peres Pope Vatican 311
(photo credit: L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO)
Welcoming President Shimon Peres to his summer palace on Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI said he was greatly encouraged by the start of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The talks were also welcomed by European leaders and by the UN secretary-general, but Iran predicted they would fail and urged its people to rally in support of the Palestinians on Friday, the final Friday of Ramadan Peres is in Italy to attend a conference that takes place annually in Como, gathering together world leaders in politics, economics and national security.RELATED:Peres tells Schalit's parents important not to lose hopePope moves speech for Jewish MPs
The pontiff told Peres he would pray that the talks would lead to a successful outcome. A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would be a historic breakthrough, he said. Everything possible must be done to advance the negotiations and to restore the values that are the foundations for peace, he said.
In addition to political support, the pope continued, it was important for the negotiators to know that they had spiritual support. He called on people of all faiths to mobilize for the sake of peace in the Middle East.
Peres and the pope discussed Iran’s plans to build a nuclear bomb, the enhancement of relations between Israel and the Vatican and the fact that abducted soldier Gilad Schalit has been deprived of the most basic of human rights.
The president asked for the pope’s help in the effort to secure the freedom of Schalit.
Peres met with the soldier’s parents, Aviva and Noam Schalit, on Wednesday evening in Jerusalem, as he was preparing to leave for Rome.
The pope pledged to do whatever was in his power to bring about Schalit’s release.
Also on Thursday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work together in the pursuit of peace.
Speaking at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the Foreign Office in London, Hague emphasized the “historic importance” of the move to direct negotiations.
“We welcome the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians beginning today.
We look to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to show the perseverance, commitment and courage needed to achieve a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside a safe and secure Israel and their other neighbors in the region,” Hague said.
Speaking about his meeting with Westerwelle, Hague said, “We stand ready with our European partners to do all that we can to buttress those talks and to work with countries in the region to that end.”
The UK’s foreign secretary said the parties would need to show “commitment and courage to achieve the lasting peace that both sides deserve, and we support them fully in that effort.”
Westerwelle said the talks in the US capital represented a real chance for a better future in the region.
“We think this chance, the first direct talks after more than 20 months, offer us an opportunity to take crucial steps towards a comprehensive and just two-state solution,” he said. “We therefore call on all parties to work hard to create conditions which make the success of these peace talks possible.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed optimism about the first direct talks in nearly two years, while acknowledging the process could prove “very difficult.”
He called on both sides to show sincerity, flexibility and pragmatism.
“I am very encouraged and happy by these direct talks for the Middle East peace process,” Ban told reporters after a meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger.
Ban commended US President Barack Obama for his efforts. He also called on countries in the region and the international community to join forces in facilitating the Mideast peace process.”
Ban said it was important that Abbas be “given full support” and that his leadership be recognized by the international community.
In Teheran on Wednesday, the Iranian army rejected the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying they are bound to fail, according to a Press TV report. And President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Al- Alam TV that the talks would fail, nothing new was on offer, and the US was biased toward Israel.
A statement released by the army said the talks were “misleading,” and called for the “return of all Palestinians to their homeland, the establishment of an independent government and the expulsion of the occupiers.”
The Iranian armed forces headquarters called on Iranians to support Palestinians by rallying on the last Friday of Ramadan (September 3), Press TV reported on Thursday. The statement reportedly said it was a “major test” for Muslims worldwide to demonstrate support for the Palestinians.
In Iran and some other Muslim countries, the day is known as International Quds Day.
AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report