BRASILIA – President Shimon Peres has embarked on a week-long visit to Brazil and Argentina, highlighted by a speech to the Brazilian Senate Tuesday where Israel’s president offered his hosts “100 years of friendship.”
Peres opened his address by praising Brazil’s beauty, the spirit of its citizens, local music, and the government’s socialist policy, which focuses on the need to fight poverty, ignorance, and disease.
The president said he arrived in order to learn how a giant country is taking off, lauding Brazil’s government for its “inspirational leadership.”
In his speech, Peres also urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to embark on immediate and direct talks with Israel “without mediators, with no pre-conditions, and without delay.”
The president added that Israel recognizes the Palestinian people’s right for an independent state, urging PA President Mahmoud Abbas to immediately continue talks on a final-status agreement. Reiterating earlier remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Peres stressed Israel’s willingness to make “painful concessions.”
Peres’ trip marks the first visit by an Israeli president to Brazil in 40 years and the first such visit to Argentina in more than 20 years. Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman visited South America’s two largest countries about three months ago.
The president is heading a large delegation that comprises Israel’s communication and tourism ministers, some 40 CEOs of leading Israeli companies, and senior officials in Israel’s military-industrial complex. The visit aims to boost Israel’s status in the continent, especially in face of the “Iranian penetration” that would see President Ahmadinejad heading to Brazil a few days after Peres’ departure.
During his trip, Peres is expected to meet with Brazil’s president and Argentina’s prime minister, as well as with senior ministers, parliament leaders, and state governors. The president will also visit large Jewish community centers in the continent and hold a memorial ceremony in honor of victims of the attack on Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires.
Earlier Tuesday, Peres met with Brazil’s defense minister Nelson Jobim. Representatives of Israel’s military-industrial complex attended parts of the meeting. The president said the Israeli delegation was seeking to expand defense cooperation between the two countries, noting that the world is facing a new era of war against terrorism.
Meanwhile, Jobim pledged to arrive in Israel in 2010 in order to boost cooperation between the two countries.
On his way back to Israel next week, Peres is expected to “bring” along with him about 30 new immigrants from Brazil and Argentina, who will be joining the president on the trip to the Jewish State.