FM Liberman interview with Radio Reka
FM Liberman says of his first comprehensive official visit in Europe, the US
and Canada that the results greatly exceeded expectations.
Interview with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman
on his visits to Europe and the United States
Radio Reka, June 25, 2009
[Translated from Russian] Israel Foreign Ministry
Q: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is here today participating in the
afternoon edition of the "News Today" magazine on Radio Reka. How would you
sum up your comprehensive official visit in the countries of Europe, the
United States and Canada?
FM Liberman: The results greatly exceeded our expectations. The EU-Israel
Association Council is held once a year, when Israel meets with the 27
member states of the European Union. Most of the foreign ministers of the
European Union's member states hold personal meetings every morning.
Meetings of the Troika and the External Relations commission take place in
the afternoons, and a press conference is given at the end. Many critical
decisions are made in an informal atmosphere over dinner. We were in many
senses apprehensive of a tough European stance towards us. Israel is one of
three states, besides Switzerland and Norway, which are not members of the
European Union and have very close ties to it. We had quite a few worries
about the political developments, but it turned out that the situation is
fine, and our friends are numerous than we imagined. Only two countries and
one foreign minister demonstrated a hostile, incomprehensible attitude
Q: Whom are we talking about?
FM Liberman: Belgium, Luxembourg and the French foreign minister. In the
case of France, we're probably talking more about a personal attitude than
an official French one. We were attacked from these quarters with reproaches
Q: Mainly for the known reasons?
FM Liberman: However, I must mention that at the end of the evening, after
the meal, all the participants were in high spirits, including Benita
Ferrero-Waldner, Javier Solana and the Czech foreign minister. It's
important to emphasize that the Czech Republic, a country with a very
constructive attitude, is one of the European states that is friendliest to
Israel. We succeeded in maintaining our position and preserving the level of
good relations. We signed an action plan until the end of 2009. The meeting
ended with a much better feeling than expected.
Q: You expected less favorable results. What do you think affected this
development you mentioned?
FM Liberman: We have many friends in Europe; we underestimate our status;
and do not devote attention to the countries that we consider allies. We
assume there's no need to invest in relations with countries such as the
Czech Republic, Poland and Romania. The countries new to the European
Union - the states of central and eastern Europe - are actually the ones
that understand us and the problems we face better than the prosperous
western states that have been living under optimal conditions for many
years. Countries such as Holland and Denmark encounter quite a few internal
problems, so their attitude toward Israel has become better and more
positive. The same holds true for Italy. That is to say, Israel is no longer
an isolated country. Not everyone is against us. We have many allies and we
must devote attention to them, invest time, effort and money in developing
relations with them; otherwise, we won't achieve good results.
Q: As foreign minister, do you intend to invest time, effort and attention
in this regard?
FM Liberman: Of course. Yesterday, I returned to Israel from a trip that
lasted ten days, during which I visited Brussels, Luxembourg, the United
States and Canada. Yesterday I had three meetings - with the Hungarian prime
minister, the Dutch foreign minister and the Czech foreign minister, who is
serving as the rotating president of the European Union. There is no
alternative to good public relations work, a personal approach and
attention, plain and simple. That's what we are trying to do.
Q: Please briefly explain the new European position. What are its
principles, and what demands is the EU making?
FM Liberman: As of now, the European Union has decided in many senses to
adopt the United State's position for itself, and is not presenting any
independent stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The union has
accepted the American approach in its entirety. On different subjects,
however, such as the Iranian one and the whole connection to the crisis that
occurred as a result of the recent elections there, the union has
surprisingly taken a much tougher stance than the new American
administration. Yet on the subject of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the
Europeans have adopted the American position as a whole. So the situation is
not so simple. It must be understood that in Israel's view, the European
Union is the most important market - this is our number one import and
export market. Even the American market comes in second after the EU market.
Q: The meetings you held in the United States were not easy, for example,
your meeting with the US secretary of state.
FM Liberman: I would like to add something about Europe. At the NATO
headquarters in Brussels, I met with the organization's secretary-general.
In my estimation, NATO today has become an important factor, a very
important ally for us. This organization participates in discussions on many
strategic world problems and takes part in a long list of military
maneuvers. These days, warm, friendly ties are being forged between the
organization and us, even closer ones than the ties between its member
states. As far as everything connected with the United States is concerned,
it's true that the meeting was not easy. I don't understand their obsession
with the settlements. We had many subjects on the agenda and managed to come
up with a joint position on all of them. We reached an agreement on all the
main clauses, except for the one point related, of course, to building
settlements in Judah and Samaria.
Q: And expanding existing settlements to provide housing.
FM Liberman: But also in everything related to the United States, the
position is much more positive than what might have been anticipated. The
meetings in the State Department and the White House naturally reflect the
administration's position. The meetings in the Senate and Congress were
fascinating. I met with more than 40 congressional representatives and
senators, including key figures. I got together with Chairman of the Foreign
Relations Committee John Kerry and many others. Many people there understand
all the problems of the Middle East very well, know how to assess the risks
we are undertaking, and are aware of the true state of affairs here. In
conclusion, I will say that the visit to the United States was extremely
successful. Now efforts are being made to reach an agreement on the last
point on the agenda. I assume that we will reach an agreement and a
reasonable compromise on this topic as well.
Q: You are optimistic, and have summed up the trip positively. Please tell
us about the visit to Canada.
FM Liberman: Canada is definitely an ally. Today it's hard to point out our
most loyal ally, but Canada is undoubtedly an exception, in the positive
sense. Canada was the first to boycott the Durban II conference that was
held in Switzerland. In Canada I met with the head of the opposition and of
course with my colleague, the foreign minister. I also had meetings with
four other ministers, including the minister of finance and the minister
entrusted with matters of international trade. It's hard to find a country
friendlier to Israel than Canada these days. Members both of the coalition
and the opposition are loyal friends to us, both with regard to their
worldview and their estimation of the situation in everything related to the
Middle East, North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Somalia. No other country in the
world has demonstrated such full understanding of us. The Jewish community
in Canada is very united, unlike the communities in most countries, and it
maintains solid contacts both in the government and in Parliament. I got the
impression of a whole, harmonious picture of great support for Israel.
Q: The Canadian option might be the best one?
FM Liberman: Canada is so friendly that there was no need to convince or
explain anything to anyone. We had amiable talks in a supportive atmosphere;
we seriously discussed the problems existing in the world. We need allies
like this in the international arena.
Q: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, thank you very much for this full
review of your visits and your hard work, which is so important to Israel.
All the best to you.
FM Liberman: Thank you.