Lieberman Boycotts Brazil President's Visit Over Mount Herzl Row

FM skips speech to Knesset by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in which he calls for nuclear-free Mideast.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday boycotted Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's speech to Israel's Knesset to protest the visiting leader's refusal to lay a wreath at Mount Herzl.

Lieberman also boycotted a meeting between Lula and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming the Brazilian president slighted Israel by refusing the customary diplomatic visit to Mount Herzl and the gravesite of Zionist leader Theodore Herzl.

Lula, however, is scheduled to visit the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during his visit to Ramallah.

The Foreign Ministry said on Monday that Lieberman wanted to show the Brazilian leader that Israel takes seriously his dismissal of diplomatic protocols.

Lula earlier on Monday called for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons in a special address to Israel's Knesset.

"Brazil is proud that there are no nuclear weapons in Latin America and we want this to be an example for other regions in the world," he said.

Lula also spoke of his vision for peace between Israel and its neighbors.

"In Brazil, 10 million Arabs live in harmony with thousands of Jews," he said. "We hope for this to be used as a metaphor for seeking deep understanding in the Middle East."

Earlier, Netanyahu welcomed Lula to the Knesset and called on him to join the effort to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

"I believe that the Iranian authorities represent entirely different values than you do," Netanyahu said addressing Lula.

"They represent tyranny and cruelty, you represent openness and tolerance. They honor death and you celebrate life. Iran denies the Holocaust, calls for the destruction of Israel, is developing nuclear weapons and supports terrorist organizations," Netanyahu added.

Lula is also set to visit the Palestinian territories and Jordan during his Middle East trip. In May, he is expected to travel to Iran.

President Peres earlier on Monday met with the Brazilian president and asked him to deliver a message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when he meets him later this week.

"Israel is serious about pursuing peace - it is in Israel's interest that a thriving and successful Palestinian state will be established and grow," Peres told Lula. "We support two states for two people and do not seek the suffering of our neighbors."

On the subject of Iran, Peres told Lula that Iran is not Israel's enemy.

"Our enemy is the extremist, fanatical leadership of Ahmadinejad who speaks openly about the eradication of Israel," said Peres. "It is clear to us, beyond any doubt, that Iran is building nuclear weapons for mass extermination and not for peaceful energy needs. Likewise, it continues to support and arm terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, the former of which undermines peace with the Palestinians and the latter of which divides Lebanon."

Lula on Monday also announced that Brazil has given its final approval for a free-trade agreement between Israel and the Mercosur bloc.

Israel is the first country outside South America to sign a free-trade agreement with the bloc.



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