Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Pope Francis in the Vatican for their first diplomatic meeting. President Peres congratulated the new Pope, saying, “Your appointment as Pope is a welcome message to the whole world and not just to Catholics. Your leadership is characterized by humility, the pursuit of peace and not by force. Your leadership creates a new spirit of hope for peace, of dialogue between nations and of the promotion of a solution to global poverty and illiteracy. Sadly, there are many religious leaders in the Middle East and across the world who advocate terror and bloodshed and do so in the name of the Lord. We all have an obligation to stand up and say, in a loud and clear voice, that the Lord did not give anyone the authority to murder and carry out bloodshed. Your voice has a great impact in this matter.”

Pope Francis thanked President Peres for his words and expressed his agreement and support. The Pope suggested creating a global meeting of hope with the heads of all the world’s faiths and to come out against violence and terror.

During the meeting Pope Francis said that anti-Semitism must be opposed in every country in the world and every corner of the globe. He asked about the state of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and the situation in the wider Middle East.

President Peres said, “The Middle East is disintegrating, it is in a real existential danger—a severe lack of employment, of food and of water. If those existential problems are not solved then violence and terror will gain a central place, as dangerous weapons fall into the hands of extremists. Iran is developing nuclear weapons for mass destruction and Syria is housing huge quantities of chemical weapons. I fear for the fate of the people of Iran and Syria under their current fanatical leadership. Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons Syrian chemical weapons must not fall into irresponsible hands.”

He told Pope Francis that he has an important role in progressing peace and asked him to include the hope for peace in the Middle East and the whole world in his sermons.

At the end of the meeting President Peres invited Pope Francis to come for an official state visit in Israel and said, “I am sure that you will be received warmly by all the citizens, regardless of religion, race or nationality. The citizens of Israel see in you a leader of peace and good will. The sooner you visit the better. Your arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in peace.” Pope Francis thanked him for the invitation and said that he greatly wishes to visit Israel and would try to find a time to do so in the near future.

During his visit to Italy, Peres also met with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who took office two days before the meeting. They discussed the economic solution in Italy and ways out of the current crisis, the Iranian nuclear threat, the ongoing crisis in Syria and the situation in Lebanon, ways to progress the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and strengthening the cooperation between Israel and Italy.

Prime Minister Letta expressed his hope that he would be able to visit Israel soon. He told President Peres that he planned to lead a pro-European government and that he would meet with the leaders of Europe and enter into dialogue with them with the aim of strengthening the cooperation between Italy and the European Union. He added that he was facing difficult economic circumstances and low public approval of the political system in Italy and concluded by saying that he attached great importance to the good relations between Israel and Italy and that in the second half of 2013 he will invite Israel’s government ministers to a joint meeting in Rome.

President Peres said, “I am sure that under your leadership, with your wisdom, you will succeed in navigating Italy out of the current crisis and that economic growth and prosperity will return. Italy is blessed with good people, quality industry and creativity—all this will help Italy out of the current crisis.”

They went on to discuss the steps Israel’s government took when Israel was faced with an economic crisis during the 1980s which included inflation of over 400% and stressed the importance of investment in science, advanced technology and joint research projects between countries. They also spoke about the Iranian attempts to develop nuclear weapons and the fact that Iran is an obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East.
President Peres told Prime Minister Letta that nuclear weapons in Iranian hands would be a clear danger not only to the Middle East but to the entire world including the capitals of Europe. They discussed the danger of the transfer of Syrian weapons and President Peres stressed his belief that President Assad had become a murderer of his own people.

President Peres added that the visit of the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League to Washington is positive and provides fresh impetus to progressing the peace process towards the agreed upon solution of two states for two peoples, “The differences between us and the Palestinians are not great, Abu Mazen is a genuine and serious partner for peace and Israel is ready to return to the negotiating table without preconditions so that all the issues which remain open between our two nations can be discussed.”

At the end of the meeting the two leaders delivered joint statements to the press which focused on continuing and strengthening the excellent relations between Italy and Israel.

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