(IsraelNN.com) For his first official overseas trip as foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman decided to visit those European states that he feels have had the most positive attitude towards Israel. His tour began in Italy on Monday.
"My first visit as Foreign Minister had to be to Italy," Lieberman declared at a joint press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini in Rome. Italy has been "a friend" that has maintained a "positive and friendly attitude" to Israel, according to Lieberman. Therefore, the Israeli government decided to express its appreciation with the minister's first official trip.
Specifically, Lieberman praised the Italian government for deciding to boycott the recent United Nations conference on racism in Geneva, known as Durban II. The conference included virulently anti-Israel rhetoric and motions, as well as honoring Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a keynote speaker.
Italy, the Foreign Minister said, brings to the table "a profound knowledge of the Middle Eastern scene, in all its complexity." Therefore, he added, "I believe Italy can have a decisive role in relations between Israel and moderate Arab states."
On Relations with the EU
At the Rome press conference, Foreign Minister Lieberman confirmed that he was in Europe to push for an upgrade in Israeli relations with the European Union. The plan to upgrade ties, which would improve bilateral cooperation, is on hold at this time due to an apparent political ultimatum by the EU.
Senior EU foreign affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said last week that the official upgrade is contingent on the new Israeli government's acceptance of the creation of a Palestinian state within Israel's current borders.
In response to the EU position, Lieberman said that EU-Israel relations must be upgraded regardless of "the other problems in the Middle East."
In his own remarks on Monday, Italian Foreign Minister Frattini agreed that Israel-EU relations should be strengthened. "What is called the upgrading [of relations] between Europe and Israel must not be halted," Frattini said, "because that way Europe can play a greater role [in the Middle East]." %ad%
An EU-Israel summit was postponed from May until June, despite objections from the Czech government under Mirek Topolanek. The Czech leader is seen as warmly pro-Israel.
On Two-State Solutions
When a media correspondent asked Foreign Minister Lieberman if his government would ultimately agree to a Palestinian state, he did not rule it out explicitly, but replied: "This government's goal is not produce slogans or make pompous declarations, but to reach concrete results." He added that he was sure the Netanyahu administration would "reach a secure and definitive peace with the Palestinians and the Arab nations around us."
Lieberman reminded his Italian audience that Israel has made a series of concessions to the Arab side that have produced no positive results. He specifically cited the traumatic Disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria, in which Jews were expelled from their homes and after which Hamas took over the evacuated areas.
While the Italian Foreign Minister did not explicitly publicly confront Lieberman on the "two-state solution" issue, he did tell reporters that he "reminded Minister Lieberman that Europe and the United States agree on the importance of making peace our common goal." Frattini also said that his government believes peace can be achieved through "immediate and concrete steps of development, security and stability."
Turning to the Iranian threat, the Foreign Minister said that a nuclear Iran would be a destabilizing factor for the entire world and not just an Israeli problem. Iran was the "main problem" in the Middle East, he said, even laying the blame for Israel-Palestinian Authority violence at the feet of the Islamic Republic.
Regarding Iran, Italian Foreign Minister Frattini said, "Understanding for Israel's concerns should be total." In fact, he explained, "the entire international community is concerned over Iranian influence" in the region.
On to France, Germany and the Czech Republic
After a meeting with Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Lieberman will be continuing his five-day European tour in Paris, Berlin and Prague. The Czechs currently hold the EU presidency.