Praising the “unbelievable & unbreakable friendship” between the United States & Israel, Peres said: “Whether through military assistance and security cooperation, or through diplomatic and moral support, you sent us a clear message: that we are not alone.”
Outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday received the Congressional Gold Medal in the US Capitol rotunda, as he bids farewell to Washington after decades of working with American leaders.
Peres received the US’s other highest honer in 2012, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from US President Barack Obama.
Peres addressed both houses of US Congress as part of his six-day visit to the US including stops in Washington, New York, and a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
Peres stressed his admiration for the US’ role as a global leader, touching on major policy issues including Iran’s nuclear program and the ongoing search for three Israeli teens kidnapped two weeks ago.
“We hope that the issue of Iran will be resolved peacefully,” said Peres, stressing that “actions are better than words” in the ongoing diplomatic process of addressing Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Peres’ promise that “Israel will do everything in her power to bring home our three kidnapped boys” was met with roaring applause.
“Their mothers asked me to speak before you on their behalf. To make their voices heard all over the world to help bring their boys, our boys, home. To sound a call around the world against terror. Let’s raise our voice against terrorism wherever it is.”
Addressing the dimming prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians after the collapse of US-brokered peace talks in April, Peres emphasized that “Abbas is clearly a partner for peace. He spoke bravely in Saudi Arabia, in Arabic, against the kidnapping, against terror, and for peace.”
He also condemned Hamas, saying that “fire and water” cannot exist together, referring to the Palestinian unity government with Hamas, which Peres said is committed to violence.
The 90-year-old Peres paid tribute to the “American dream” and hailed Washington’s steadfast support for the Jewish state.
“Many people call me a dreamer. I suppose that’s why I have always felt at home in the United States of America — America that was given the privilege to carry the dreams of humanity,” Peres said.
He explained how his mentor David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, sent him to the United States to learn English. “‘Study the American dream,’ he told me. ‘That’s what you have to do.’ So I did,” Peres said.
Hailing the “unbelievable and unbreakable friendship” between the United States and Israel, Peres said: “Whether through military assistance and security cooperation, or through diplomatic and moral support, you sent us a clear message: that we are not alone.”
Republican House Speaker John Boehner lauded Peres, a Nobel peace laureate, as the “great prototype of the Israeli statesman,” noting that it was the first time the Congressional Gold Medal had been given to an Israeli head of state.
Peres concluded saying, “I hope we will be able to renew peace talks with the Palestinians soon. Israel does not intend to rule over other peoples.”
Citing the many surprises in his career, the importance of optimism, and the experience of Israel’s remarkable rise as an economic and military power, Peres ended saying, “peace is the most impossible possibility.”
“This medal says to our young people and yours — never get cynical, never give in to expediency, and know that America will always stand by Israel, and with all men and women of peace,” Boehner said.
US Vice President Joe Biden said: “You are a legendary friend.”
The award bestowed by the US Congress is one of the highest civilian honors in the United States, and is awarded to those whose achievements have had an “impact on American history and culture.”
The first Congressional Gold Medal was given to the first US president, George Washington.
The Israeli politician, who has held nearly every top post in Israel’s government during his career of over half a century, is widely recognized as a symbol of peace, wisdom, and excellency in statesmanship.
Obama, Peres speak about Pollard
Peres and Obama met on Wednesday during a day of conversations and meetings at the White House.
Among other topics, the two statesmen discussed the case of Jonathan Pollard, a US-born Israeli spy who was arrested in Washington in 1985 and jailed for life.
Washington was reportedly considering releasing Pollard earlier this year in exchange for Israeli concessions in the troubled US-brokered peace process with the Palestinians. The peace talks came to a disappointing close in April.
However, the Jerusalem Post reported the meeting could represent a breakthrough in the long-standing saga surrounding Pollard, with Obama apparently poised to speak with US Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the possibility of Pollard’s release.
Addressing the Iraqi crisis, Peres said he was unsure the country could be kept together as sectarian violence threatens to tear it apart.
“The best thing that could happen is that Iraq will remain a united country, but I wonder if it’s possible,” Peres told reporters after the talks.
The Israeli president also said it was not the outside world’s job to mediate divisions between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam or to “decide who is the real heir of Mohammed.”
Peres also said he and Obama discussed Israel’s concerns about the US drive for a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
The best solution, according to the Israeli president, would be one modeled on the program to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program, which would involve all components for armaments being taken out of the country.
The Israeli government said Peres enlisted support in the hunt for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.
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