Peres defers to PM at meeting with China's Mideast envoy

Political pundits who were predicting that President Shimon Peres would be unable to resist continuing with his own political agenda may have to eat their words. Peres passed his first test with flying colors. At the start of his meeting with Chinese special Middle East envoy Sun Bigan, Peres was asked by a reporter whether he thought it was correct to release Palestinian security prisoners in return for Israeli soldiers in captivity, and whether Israel should negotiate with Syria. In reply to both questions, Peres said that he would go along with whatever the government decided. With regard to Syria, he said that the issue was a complex problem. If Syria were willing to meet with Israel face to face as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had suggested, instead of going through an American intermediary, Israel would be willing to negotiate with the Syrians, he said. Any negotiations with the Syrians must start with a meeting between the leadership of both countries and mutual recognition, said Peres. Sun Bigan was accompanied by Chinese ambassador Zhao Jun and a large delegation. Peres, who prior to his election to the presidency was for many years the head of the Israel China Friendship Association, and who visited China in the first years of diplomatic relations between Israel and China, greeted his guest with open arms and a broad smile. "Welcome, I'm delighted to see you," he exclaimed. Sun Bigan referred to the pivotal role that Peres had played in developing ties between Israel and China, describing him as the architect who had paved the way for diplomatic relations between the two countries. "Your Excellency is very well known to the Chinese people and enjoys high respect in China," he said, adding that the Chinese were well aware of Peres's efforts towards advancing the peace process. The president also commented on areas in which there is strong cooperation between Israel and China, namely in science and high tech, and said that it was essential to open up another track in relations between the countries, this time in medicine. Two weeks prior to his inauguration, Peres met with a Chinese foreign affairs and security parliamentary delegation that asked for Israel's assistance in advancing medicine and science in China. Peres said that it was important to establish a joint Israel-China task force for this purpose, and offered to do all that was possible to help.