Following a meeting with the top Pentagon officials on Monday and a public event with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday at the Brookings Institute, President Shimon Peres' visit to Washington will reach its peak on Wednesday with his meeting with President Barack Obama - and an official dinner and reception at the White House, during which Peres will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civic award in the US.
The festive event will be attended by about 140 guests, including Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, former president Bill Clinton, members of Peres family, and also family members of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, including his daughter Dalia.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak congratulated Peres, calling the award "another expression of the great respect President Peres enjoys among the world's leaders, at the top of them President Obama. It's a blessing and a compliment to the State of Israel."
During their speeches on Wednesday night, both Peres and Obama are expected to ignore the issue that grabbed headlines in the past few days - Peres' promise to raise the issue of clemency for convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. But White House spokesman Jay Carney explained during the daily briefing at the White House that the public shouldn't expect any surprises on this issue. "Our position has not changed and will not change today. Mr. Pollard was convicted of extremely serious crimes,", Carney said.
Peres told "Haaretz" he is not familiar with President Obama's considerations on this issue. "They won't tell me, and I see no reason to guess. I have no appeal on his conviction, I have a humanitarian appeal. I know sometimes it's a process from hell, with all the different 'pros' and 'cons'. I've dealt with it, made these decisions and even was criticized for them. I don't know what pressures Obama faces and don't expect him to tell me, as I don't tell people about mine when I ponder granting clemency. I just express my position on Pollard case."
The two leaders are expected to discuss the situation in Syria (Peres thinks the Arab League should take action on this one), the prospects of the peace process under the new coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu - but the focus will probably be the nuclear program of Iran.
Peres said he still trusts Obama with solving this crisis "because the world can't afford itself the Middle East falling prey to Iran. It's not a child play, it's not a matter of some nice gesture, it's the world economy. It just cannot happen." Asked whether he sees Iranian leadership as rational, he said "not on this issue. It doesn't mean they are totally crazy, but crazy enough to pose a danger."
Peres said he supports dialogue and sanctions - stressing, however, that dialogue should be strictly limited in time, so the Iranian program won't reach the point of no return.
Peres will end his visit in Washington on Thursday, with special reception at the Israeli ambassador's residence.
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