(Communicated by the Office of the President)
On Tuesday, 5 March 2013, President Shimon Peres will depart for a visit to the European Union (Brussels, Paris and Strasbourg) and will conduct a series of diplomatic, economic and security meetings with senior leaders on a range of issues of importance to Israel including the Iranian nuclear threat, Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, arms smuggling into Lebanon, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and the strengthening of strategic relations between Israel and the European Union.
During the visit President Peres will meet with heads of state including the President of France, Francois Hollande (8 March), the Prime Minister of Belgium Elio Di Rupo (6 March) and the President of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev (6 March) as well as with the leaders of the European Union including the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz (12 March), the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso (7 March) and the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy (6 March). The meetings will take place in the context of the inquiry into the terror attack in Bulgaria which found that Hezbollah was responsible for the bombing and the subsequent discussions within Europe on the consequences.
President Peres will also hold strategic meetings with the Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (8 March in Brussels) and the OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria (8 March in Paris) before delivering a speech to the senior economic forum of the OECD which will include hundreds of representatives of global companies, heads of the economic committees and the ambassadors of the member countries. President Peres will lay out his vision for the role of global companies in creating change in the Middle East.
President Peres will conclude the visit with an historic speech in Strasbourg before the European Parliament. The speech will be the first by an Israeli leader before the European Parliament in its current format.
President Peres' historic speech at the European Parliament will be broadcast live via the European Union's website.
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March 6: Meeting in Brussels with EU Council President Van Rompuy, President Peres said: "The EU can help us in putting an end to terror by condemning Hamas because they are the center of terror, the same for Hezbollah... I don't take this criticism that, because of the settlements, we lost the chance of implementing the two-state solution. The most important difficulty is not settlements but terror."
Earlier, in a meeting with several members of the European Parliament from the European Friends of Israel (EFI) group, President Peres said: "Israel was founded 65 years ago and has since undergone seven wars, I do not know of any other country that withstood that kind of threat and paid such a heavy price in terms of human lives, so I ask those that criticize us, how would you act in our place? The State of Israel yearns for peace with its neighbors, we signed peace deals with Egypt and Jordan and we returned great areas of land."
On the Iranian threat: "I have great respect for the Iranian people but it is the Iranian leadership which is funding Hezbollah and other terror groups which carry out attacks across the world, including in Europe. Iran is not threatened by the nations of the world but Iran does not respect international agreements and threatens the entire world. We do not want to reach the point where Iran has nuclear weapons and Syria has chemical weapons."
On the future of the Middle East: "The Middle East is undergoing change, and we see young people suffering from hunger, discrimination and unemployment. Israel is only a small part of the Middle East, but I believe that Europe and Israel should extend a hand of assistance to those countries who wish it. We should work together for a better future for the State of Israel and the entire Middle East."