Peres and Obama, last March
Peres and Obama, last March. Photo by Moshe Milner / GPO
Text size

Israel President Shimon Peres began on Monday a four day visit in Washington during which he will be awarded the Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Barack Obama and meet administration officials.

Equipped with a signed petition calling for the release of Israeli convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, Peres said the matter will be discussed with Obama in private.

Peres arrived at Blair House, the U.S. president’s official guest house, at 1:30 P.M. local time.

Upon arrival, Peres told reporters that he is honored by the fact Obama chose to award him the medal. “I see it as an exceptional tribute; there are over 200 countries around the world, he could have chosen any one of 200. The fact Israel was chosen is truly remarkable."

Peres added that Obama’s decision indicates that “despite all that is said, the relations (between Israel and the U.S.) are deep, both historically and in the present,” and that even though Israel and the rest of the world don’t always see eye to eye on a number of issues, the “deep friendship” between Israel and the U.S. has been maintained.

“The Israeli president also has the authority to grant a pardon, (so) I am familiar with the complexity of granting an amnesty," Peres said. "There are considerations beyond (the legal process) and I will explain it to the president."

Peres said nevertheless that he is aware Obama has other considerations, saying he will "be focusing on the humanitarian issue."

The Israeli president also commented on the anti-Semitic graffiti discovered at the entrance of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center, saying it “is one of the most horrific acts possible."

At least 10 slogans were found on Monday morning on the walls outside the museum, such as: "Hitler, thank you for the Holocaust", "If Hitler did not exist, the Zionists would have invented him", and "Zionists! You declared war on Hitler in the name of the Jewish people, you brought upon the Holocaust."

“Are we acting like the ones who tried to annihilate us?” Peres asked, and continued: “The whole nation should stand as one against this act."

On Iran, Peres said that while Western powers are preparing for another round of talks over its nuclear program, the Islamic Republic doesn’t seem to be very “flexible." He did not specify what he intends to tell the U.S. president.

Later on Monday, Peres is scheduled to meet Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. On Tuesday, Peres will attend a special sitting with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

On Wednesday, a few hours before being awarded the Medal of Freedom, Peres will meet Obama in the White House. Peres’ family will attend the medal awarding ceremony.