Peres calls for renewed peace talks in medal ceremony

President Obama presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Israeli President Shimon Peres in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 13, 2012.

JTA REPORT

WASHINGTON — Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, Israeli President Shimon Peres called for a renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians.

“Israel and the Palestinians are ripe today to restart” peace talks, Peres said at the White House ceremony on June 13. “A firm basis already exists. A solution of two national states: A Jewish state — Israel. An Arab state — Palestine. The Palestinians are our closest neighbors. I believe they may become our closest friends.”

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Peace talks have been stalled since 2010, with the Palestinians demanding a freeze of settlement building in the West Bank, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisting on no preconditions for their restart.

Peres, addressing about 140 dignitaries in the White House East Room, also thanked Obama for pressuring Iran to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.

“Mr. President, you worked hard to build a world coalition to meet this immediate threat,” Peres said. “You started, rightly, with economic sanctions. You made it clear, rightly again, that all options are on the table.”

Obama also emphasized peacemaking in his remarks.

“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 neighbors.”

During his visit, Peres said before his meeting with the president that he would ask for clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

The U.S. stance denying clemency to Pollard remains the same for now, a White House spokesman said, despite the Israeli President’s plea.

“Our position has not changed and will not change today,” Jay Carney said last week. “And I would simply remind you that Mr. Pollard was convicted of extremely serious crimes.”

A succession of presidents has refused to grant clemency to Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who spied for Israel, since he was sentenced to life in 1987.