The two flags fluttering on flagpoles en route to Beit Hanassi were similar in many respects. Both bore the same shade of blue stripes on a white background. One flag featured a Star of David in the Center, the other the Sun of May - the Inca sun god - in the upper left hand corner. The Uruguayan flag was part of the welcome accorded to the country's President Tabare VÃ¡zquez, who is on a state visit to Israel coinciding with his country's 183rd anniversary of independence. VÃ¡zquez arrived with a large delegation of ministers, members of parliament and other public figures. This is his fourth visit to Israel. Some 25 years ago, he did oncology research at the Weizmann Institute. He returned in 1992 as mayor of his native Montevideo and later paid a private visit to Israel. This is his first visit as president, he told President Shimon Peres, adding that he always felt at home in Israel. In welcoming VÃ¡zquez, Peres said relations between the two countries had always been good and hailed Uruguay as "a bastion of democracy, and a center for dialogue in South America and the world at large." It was not easy to have remained independent and free of foreign influence for so long, said Peres. Recalling the role Uruguay played in securing the United Nations vote for the partition of Palestine in 1947, Peres said: "This is something we will never forget." VÃ¡zquez also referred to "the role my country played in the creation of the State of Israel." He spoke of the importance of pursuing the dialogue of peace and of the significant contribution Jews, who arrived in Uruguay in the 1920s, had made to his country. Although his country was small in both its geographic and demographic size, he said, it was large in matters of democracy. While the distance in kilometers between Uruguay and Israel might be great, VÃ¡zquez acknowledged, the two countries shared values related to human rights, liberty and freedom, and the belief that every nation should have its own territory. VÃ¡zquez suggested potential areas for improvement in the countries' relations, namely science and culture. Later in the day, he signed an agreement on technological research and development cooperation between Uruguay and Israel. The Uruguayan president wrote in the Beit Hanassi visitors' book: "In the name of the people of Uruguay: Greetings and solidarity with the Jewish people."