Accessibility links

Obama Awards Peres Medal of Freedom

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

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

The White House - It was the latest of many visits Shimon Peres has made to the White House over the decades, but a highly symbolic one for a veteran Israeli leader whose career spans seven decades and whose views about the Middle East have been respected by U.S. presidents.

Peres served twice as prime minister of Israel. In 1994, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin, and then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for Middle East peace efforts.

Peres was unable to come to the White House a few weeks ago to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which President Obama also awarded to 12 others.

Peres got the award for his devotion to peace and his support for the U.S. - Israel alliance. President Obama praised him as an "indomitable spirit" who spent his life working for peace and to strengthen the U.S. - Israel security relationship.

"Shimon knows the necessity of strength. As Ben-Gurion said, “an Israel capable of defending herself-which cannot be destroyed-can bring peace nearer,” said Obama. "And so he’s worked with every American President since John F. Kennedy. And it’s why I’ve worked with Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure that the security cooperation between the United States and Israel is closer and stronger than it has ever been. Because the security of the State of Israel is non-negotiable. And the bonds between us are unbreakable."

Obama described Peres as someone who knows that peace must not only be sought but pursued. Peres, he said, made the pursuit of peace, security and dignity for Israelis, Palestinians, and Israel's Arab neighbors a cause of his life.

"Shimon to all of our friends here tonight, and to our fellow citizens across America and Israel, may we never lose sight of our destination. Shalom, and may we always be as young as our dreams. L'chaim," toasted President Obama.

President Peres called peace between Israel and Palestinians "more urgent than ever before" warning that delay could worsen its chances. He said "extremists are using the Israel-Palestinian conflict to "cover their true ambitions."

Peres said Iran has become a threat because of a leadership he said "aims to rule the Middle East" by spreading terror and trying to build a nuclear bomb.

"We have a solemn responsibility to our own people, to our friends throughout the world, to posterity, that the Iranian threat must be stopped and it cannot be delayed," he said. "Mr. President, you worked so hard to build a world coalition to meet this immediate threat. You started rightly with economic sanctions, you made it clear rightly again that all options are on the table. Clearly we support you."

On the Arab Spring, Peres praised a young Arab generation that he said has "opened its eyes to stand up against oppression, poverty and corruption to seek freedom."

There was no official readout from the White House on Oval Office talks President Peres and President Obama had hours earlier.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said Iran, Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and Mideast developments were discussed.

Haaretz also reported that President Peres asked President Obama to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted of spying for Israel in 1986. Pollard has served 27 years of a 30 year sentence.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters earlier that there had been no change in the U.S. position on Pollard.

Among those attending the East Room ceremony: Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Also, Dalia Rabin, daughter of Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist who opposed the Oslo Accords.

Show comments