Israeli president sees opportunities during Athens visit

Israeli President Simon Peres, on his first official visit to Greece on Monday, met with his counterpart Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras as the two countries seek ways to strengthen their cooperation.

Diplomatic sources said that the formation of a cross-government cooperation council was discussed. The two countries see this as a way of concentrating their ties on particular areas, among which are investments, energy, tourism, shipping, agriculture and trade.

?It has become important that there be a further marriage between Greece and Israel,? said Peres after meeting Papoulias. ?We belong to the same spiritual family and the same geographical area.?

Peres added that the region could benefit from more tourism and that Israel wants ?peace in the Mediterranean.? ?We want a world of tourists, not a world of terrorists,? added the visiting president, who highlighted a number of areas where Greece and Israel could cooperate.

?We can work together politically, scientifically and economically,? he said. ?Greece has produced great minds in the past and still does. It has great scientists and I think a lot can happen if your researchers and ours cooperate.?

Peres added that Greece, its culture, music and dancing are respected in Israel, and expressed confidence that the country would soon recover from what he labeled a ?European crisis.?

Greece?s ties with Israel picked up in 2010, following contact between then-Prime Minister George Papandreou and his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited Athens in August of that year. The relations between the two countries have grown warmer partly as a result of the deterioration in the links between Israel and Turkey. Perhaps with one eye on the implications of Peres?s visit for diplomatic relations with Ankara, Papoulias stressed: ?The dynamic growth in Greek-Israeli ties is not aimed at anyone. Its aim is to improve the lives of our people.?

Sources said that Peres, who is staying until Thursday, also discussed with Greek officials the possibility of transporting Israeli natural gas through Greece.