Thursday, 09 August 2012 07:16
The intensification of contacts between Greece and Israel, with emphasis on the sectors of investments, energy, tourism, shipping, agricultural development, the environment and commerce was agreed on Monday during a meeting between Greek President Karolos Papoulias and visiting Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres, who arrived in Athens on Monday August 6, 2012, on a state visit at the invitation of his Greek counterpart.
Peres was greeted shortly after his arrival by Papoulias at the Presidential Mansion in an official ceremony also attended by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.  "Your presence here underlines the desire of our two peoples for cooperation in many sectors," Papoulias said as he welcomed Peres to the Presidential Mansion.
"The enhancement of the relations of the two countries is a good omen," Peres replied, adding that beyond the geographical and philosophical rapprochement, Greece and Israel could also cooperate in the field of science, which is a basis for growth in the new era.

Later on Monday President Shimon Peres met separately with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (photo), with main opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras and PASOK leader Evangelos VenizelosPrime Minister Antonis Samaras hosted a working lunch with President Peres which was also attended by Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, Defence Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos, Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras, Agriculture Minister Theodoris Tsaftaris, as well as the Presidents of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece David Saltiel and of the Athens Jewish Community Benjamin Albalas.

On Monday evening President Papoulias hosted a formal dinner in honor of visiting Israeli President. In his official address President Papoulias referred to the economic crisis experienced by Greece, stressing that it is a systemic crisis of the eurozone and at the same time resented "the thoughtless statements made by our partners" that "undermine the eurozone and favour international speculators". He also referred to the Cyprus issue, the Middle East issue, Syria, and the major issue of terrorism stressing that Greece has "zero tolerance".
Papoulias expressed satisfaction about the rising tourist flow from Israel and the significant prospects for cooperation in the sectors of investments (particularly within the framework of the privatizations programme), energy, agricultural development and high technology, stressing the important role of the intergovernmental ministerial council of cooperation.
"The convergence of interests in Eastern Mediterranean allow for the establishment of a strategic relation - with the Republic of Cyprus being an integral part - considering that the discovery of significant underwater natural gas deposits and the transport of Israeli and Cypriot natural gas to Europe via Greece change the geoeconomic and geopolitical framework in the greater region," he said.
He referred to the Cyprus issue, pointing out that Greece seeks "a viable, functional and European solution to the Cyprus problem," and that "Ankara has an obligation to recognize the Republic of Cyprus which, as an EU member-state, participates in the decisions for the European prospect of Turkey."
President Papoulias expressed concern for the ongoing bloodshed in Syria and stated that the "problem is political and demands a political solution by the Syrian people".
On the Palestinian problem, he stated that "a viable solution is a solution of two states. Israel within secure borders that will coexist peacefully with the independent Palestinian state and enjoy normalized relations with all its neighbours. Greece believes that direct negotiations between the two sides can make such a solution feasible."

In response, President Peres referred to the close bilateral relations, the strong feelings the Israeli people have for Greece and the further improvement of bilateral political and economic relations.
He spoke about "serious security obstacles" faced by his country and stressed that "Israel is ready to pay the cost of peace," pointing at Tehran as the "main threat to the existence of our country." He added that "it threatens the entire world as well" and "supports the horrible massacre of the Syrian people directly and through Hezbollah."
The Israeli President stated that "Israel is the only country in the world that fights for its existence and at the same time has peace as a priority."
President Peres said that "today, the main threat to our country's existence is also a threat to the entire world. It comes from Tehran" and accused it of "openly using sanguinary acts of terrorism" and "developing nuclear weapons even though nobody threatens its existence."

On Tuesday Aug. 7, Israeli President Shimon Peres was decorated with the Gold Medal of the Hellenic Parliament for his contribution to the global community and peace (photo). Earlier in the morning, Peres laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Presenting the medal, Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis said it was an historic day for the Greek parliament due to the 'honorable presence' of Peres, 'a man who has contributed to peace in a region that has been sorely tried".

The Israeli President afterwards visited the New Acropolis Museum (photo), where Culture and Education Minister Constantine Arvanitopoulos hosted a luncheon in his honor. The tour lasted 50 minutes, almost twice the time initially scheduled. President Peres expressed his admiration for the Greek culture and education, stressing that "they keep Greece standing."
The tour was followed by a luncheon at the Acropolis Museum restaurant attended by the Minister of Education & Culture, the museum President Dimitris Pantermalis, as well as by Defence Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos, Tourism Minister Olga Kefaloyianni and Alternate Culture Minister Costas Tzavaras.

On Tuesday afternoon President Peres had a meeting with the Greek Jewish leadership. Shimon Peres was welcomed by the President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece David Saltiel and the President of the Athens Jewish Community Benjamin Albalas (photo), and then answered to questions made by the representatives of the Greek Jewish Communities and Organizations. The meeting was attended by the Israeli Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Orit Noked and the Ambassador of Israel to Greece Arye Mekel. During the two hour meeting the Israeli President covered a remarkably vast context of topics, including Middle East and the recent developments, Egypt, Syria and Iran, the peace process, the Greek - Israeli relations, the Jewish Diaspora and the challenges the young generation faces, the importance of education and research, and more. The meeting concluded with the exchange of gifts (photo).

Peres departed Athens for Israel on Thursday morning.

(Source: This article is based on reports published by the Daily News Bulletin in English of the Athens News Agency, August 7 and August 8, 2012).