Diplomatic conclusion to President Peres' visit

By Anshel Pfeffer and Stephen Pollard, November 21, 2008
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The last stage of the Presidential visit to Britain was given over to diplomatic affairs.

The first meeting was at the Foreign Office with Foreign Secretary David Miliband , who had returned the night before from a visit to the Middle East that took in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Lebanon. Mr Miliband took the president aside for a private discussion on matters concerning his visit to Damascus.

But Mr Peres lodged a serious complaint with the Foreign Secretary on the ongoing threat of arrest warrants for alleged war crimes, for senior Israeli officers who wanted to come to Britain. "The Israeli army is peace-seeking and makes huge efforts not to harm civilians" he told the Foreign Secretary . "Britain and the United States use similar tactics in their operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Mr Miliband said that the government was trying to find a solution to the matter. Mr Peres also asked him to use his contacts in Syria to try and help release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

In the evening, Mr Peres arrived at Downing Street to meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Mr Peres told him that the greatest challenge facing the West was to achieve a breakthrough in the field of alternative energy, which would end enslavement to oil and deprive Iran of resources to develop nuclear weapons. They also discussed the global financial crisis and the peace process.

When asked by Mr Brown about the conditions in Gaza, the president said : "All complaints on Gaza have to be presented to Hamas which ha s taken over the area and is firing missiles from there on Israeli citizens."

The two leaders agreed to renew the activity of a joint economic research foundation between Israel and Britain. After the talks, Mr Brown hosted a dinner at Downing Street in the president's honour. At the dinner, mixing Mr Peres' friends and representatives of the Jewish community, the atmosphere was as informal as any such dinner could be, beginning with drinks for the 30 guests under the eye of a portrait of Elizabeth I.

Mr Peres sat opposite Gordon Brown. On the President's left was Baroness Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, and on his right, Lord Kinnock. The Chief Rabbi, a longstanding friend of the Prime Minister, was seated next to Mr Brown, with Dame Gail Ronson on the Prime Minister's right. Other top table guests included Lord Weidenfeld, Sir Trevor Chinn and Sir Ronald Cohen.

Before the meal of salmon, chicken and sticky toffee pudding, the Prime Minister welcomed the President as "not just a leader of Israel but a leader of the world", and paid tribute to his long years of devotion to peace and prosperity, both in Israel and beyond.

Mr Peres responded after dinner with a toast to Mr Brown, hailing him for engineering unparallelled years of prosperity as Chancellor and for leading the world in its response to the economic crisis.

Also present were the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and Lords Janner, Rothschild and Triesman.

Other guests included Nick Hytner, director of the National Theatre, Sir Martin Gilbert, Henry Grunwald QC, President of the Board of Deputies and Gerald Ronson.

The dinner was the last engagement of Mr Peres' visit; he left No 10 direct for Heathrow.

    Last updated: 11:54am, March 4 2009