ASTANA – During his keynote address at the opening session of the interfaith conference in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres called on Saudi King Abdullah to meet either in Jerusalem or Riyadh, or to travel to Kazakhstan in order to advance the Israeli-Arab peace process.
"Together with all the Arab leaders, we can realize your vision, our vision and the vision of all the leaders and all believers in our shared god of peace and justice," Peres told the forum.
"We are aware of the big change which has occurred in the positions of a majority of Arab countries toward peace with Israel, a transition from the three 'no's of Khartoum - no negotiation, no recognition, no peace - to the three 'yes's of the Saudi initiative," he said.
"The king of Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Abdullah II, defined the Saudi initiative as a readiness for peace between the State of Israel and 57 Arab and Muslim states."
King Abdullah instigated the Arab peace initiative, which calls for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from West Bank territories and a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.
Iranian delegates stormed out of the conference hall as Peres began to deliver his speech, and returned only after he finished speaking.
The Iranians had threatened to cancel their participation altogether after learning that Peres would be the keynote speaker at the two-day Congress of World and Traditional Religions in the capital Astana.
"Peres is not a religious leader; he is a man of violence," one of the Iranian delegates said.
At the opening of his speech Peres indirectly attacked Iran, al-Qaaeda and Hizbullah, saying "there are those who worship a god who sanctions massacres and cruelty and calls on his followers to deceive and destroy. We must separate religion from terror."
Prior to Peres' speech, Iranian delegation member Mehdi Mostafavi told a group of Israeli reporters that "religion can be a bridge to peace," but refused to continue speaking after realizing they were Israeli.
Israel's chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, also addressed the conference. During his speech the rabbi held up a picture of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and said: "No one knows where he is and how he fares."