Washington, June 14 – Israeli President Shimon Peres called for renewed peace talks Wednesday night as President Obama honored him with America’s highest civilian award.
“I believe that peace with the Palestinians is more urgent than ever before. It is necessary. It is crucial. It is possible. A delay may worsen its chances,” he told guests at a special White House ceremony to honor the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Peres was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 along with the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, the slain Israeli Prime Minister. They were honored by the Nobel committee in the wake of the signing the historic Oslo Accords, “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.”
President Obama in his own remarks paid tribute to the longtime Israeli leader’s peacemaking instincts as well.
“Shimon knows that a nation’s security depends, not just on the strength of its arms, but upon the righteousness of its deeds — its moral compass,” Obama said. “He knows, as Scripture teaches, that we must not only seek peace, but we must pursue peace. And so it has been the cause of his life — peace, security and dignity, for Israelis and Palestinians and all Israel’s Arab neighbors. And even in the darkest moments, he’s never lost hope in – as he puts it – ‘a Middle East that is not a killing field but a field of creativity and growth.’”
During his speech at the awards dinner, the Israeli President said the time was “ripe” for a revival of negotiations.
“A firm basis already exists,” Peres said. “A solution of two national states: A Jewish state – Israel. An Arab state – Palestine. The Palestinians are our closest neighbors. I believe they may become our closest friends.”
Obama said Peres recognizes the “necessity of strength” and the importance of working with American presidents.
“That’s why I’ve worked with Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure that the security cooperation between the United States and Israel is closer and stronger than it has ever been — because the security of the State of Israel is non-negotiable, and the bonds between us are unbreakable,” Obama said.
Peres, addressing about 140 dignitaries in the White House East Room, also thanked Obama for pressuring Iran to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.
“Mr. President, you worked hard to build a world coalition to meet this immediate threat,” Peres said. “You started, rightly, with economic sanctions. You made it clear, rightly again, that all options are on the table.”
During his visit to the U.S., Peres has met with Obama and with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and participated in a forum with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center.