Shimon Peres honoured with Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama

President Shimon Peres

President Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres has been awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Israeli statesman collected the prize at a ceremony in Washington DC on Wednesday evening hosted by Barack Obama.

Speaking as he honoured Mr Peres with the highest civilian award given by the US government, Mr Obama praised the Israeli for his contribution to the links between the two countries.

"One of our strongest allies, and one of our closest friends, is the state of Israel," said Mr Obama in front of a crowded ballroom, with guests including Bill and Hillary Clinton, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "No individual has done so much over so many years to build our alliance and bring our two nations closer."

He also paid tribute to Mr Peres' strong moral outlook. "Shimon knows that a nation's security depends not just on the strength of its arms but upon the righteousness of its deeds - its moral compass," he said. "He knows, as scripture teaches, that we must not only seek peace, we must pursue it. And so it has been the cause of his life - peace, security and dignity, for Israelis and Palestinians and all Israel's Arab neighbours."

The Israeli president responded: "You are paying tribute to generations upon generations of Jews who dreamed of, and fought for, a state of their own."

It was widely hoped that Mr Peres' presence in Washington would be an opportunity to persuade the Obama administration to agree to clemency for Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted of spying for Israel 26 years ago.

But despite his appeal, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the position had not changed.

"It will not change today," he said. "I would simply remind you that Mr. Pollard was convicted of extremely serious crimes."

Last updated: 10:01am, June 14 2012