ROME (Feb. 19)
Israel Premier Shimon Peres had a 40-minute meeting with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican today. A Vatican spokesman said afterwards that they discussed the Middle East, Jewish-Christian relations and Jerusalem among other topics but the main differences between Israel and the Vatican were not resolved.
Peres told reporters after the meeting that he did not ask the Pontiff for Vatican diplomatic relations with Israel, that he had made it clear that Jerusalem will always be the political capital of Israel with full respect for the religious rights of all faiths and that Israel remains hopeful but cautious with respect to recent Middle East peace moves.
Peres arrived here yesterday on a two-day official visit during which he will be meeting with Premier Bettino Craxi and President Sandro Pertini. His audience with the Pope was the first for an Israeli Prime Minister since Golda Meir met with Pope Paul VI here in 1973.
Before going to the Vatican, Peres visited the main synagogue where he placed a wreath in memory of Stefano Tasche, a two year-old boy killed in a terrorist attack on the synagogue in October, 1982. He told reporters, “Praying I do in the synagogue. Diplomacy is for the Vatican.”
He said the Pope expressed great interest in prospects for peace in the Middle East and also a desire to visit the Holy Land. Peres said he told the Pontiff that he would be a welcome guest in Israel. With respect to Jerusalem, the Israeli Premier told reporters:
“I said clearly that our government will continue to respect the religious rights and needs and expectations of all peoples. Politically, Jerusalem will remain the united capital of Israel. I did not ask for diplomatic relations.”
Peres added, “It was clear in our discussion that we have to distinguish between the spiritual and religious part of Jerusalem and the political part.” Asked about the reported agreement between King Hussein of Jordan and Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat on a framework for joint negotiations for a Middle East peace settlement, Peres replied:
We will try to advance the positive parts of developements. But we must understand very carefully that this is a very early stage and there is still a great deal of work to be done.”
Peres will leave tomorrow for a one-day visit to Bucharest, Rumania. He said that Craxi accepted in principle an invitation to visit Israel but no date was set.