Following his landing in Israel, President Obama arrived in a black SUV to inspect Iron Dome and other air-defense systems lined up outside an hangar on the tarmac. They are a mix of rockets and mobile anti-missile batteries.
“I’m a young man. I’m always looking for any chance to walk,” Obama said to Israeli military officials after hopping out of the SUV.
Obama listened as an officer explained the functions of an Iron Dome battery, a squat, desert-grey weapon pointed skyward. He then entered what appeared to be a control room.
Back outside, Obama shook hands with a line of Israeli officials in front of Iron Dome. He paused again in front of the battery, gesturing with his hands, as an officer spoke to him.
Video and remarks after meeting with Peres after the jump.
Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then walked, in shirt sleeves, to Marine One, for the short flight into Jerusalem.
After freshening up at the King David Hotel, President Obama headed to the residence of the Israeli president. The two Presidents strolled together in the late-afternoon sunlight to gaze at fig and olive trees and then to dedicate a small magnolia tree that is a gift of President Obama. “A magnolia tree, just like what we have outside the White House,” Obama said to reporters. “I want everyone to know, this was on Air Force One.”
Turning over two spades of dirt on the freshly-planted tree, Obama said:
It is an incredible honor to offer this tree to this beautiful garden, and to someone who is champion of the Israeli people and a champion of peace.
“And we’re very good gardeners,” Obama added.
The two men then began a bilateral meeting inside. Secretary of State John Kerry took a seat to Obama’s right. Ambassador Michael Oren to Peres’ left. President Obama and President Peres met for about 55 minutes at the Israeli president’s residence. They emerged to make brief statements, standing at two podiums on a small stage with three U.S. flags and three Israeli flags behind them.
Peres said there is a common vision uniting the two countries: “The greatest danger is a nuclear Iran,” he said. “We trust your policy […] You have made it clear that your intention is not to contain but to prevent.”
Peres spoke of the threat of chemical weapons in Syria, saying that they cannot allow those weapons to fall into terrorist hands. He also said that Obama made clear that “peace is not only a wish but a possibility.”
Obama said he reaffirmed to Peres that in the work ahead, Israel will have no greater friend than the U.S. He praised Peres as someone with astonishing vision and a practical-minded politician. Obama said Mr. Peres’ work had planted the seeds of progress, security and peace.
According to Nadav Tamir, foreign policy adviser to the president:
We spoke about the Iranian threat, Syria, the peace process for the Palestinians, and change in the Middle East. The meeting was good and President Obama was in a listening mood. On the Iranian threat, we were convinced by the commitment and the determination of the Americans to deal with the issues. President Obama reaffirmed that all options remain on the table. On Syria, the chemical arsenal was mentioned but I cannot say more. On the peace process, it is achievable. We have to resume the negotiations as soon as possible and President Obama agreed with that.
After the meeting, the two president carried short remarks:
President Peres: President Obama, it is a great privilege for me and for the people of Israel to host you here in Jerusalem.
It was a real pleasure to sit with a true friend — very knowledgeable, fortunately — and sit candidly and discuss issues openly and freely.
After the meeting we just had, I have all confidence that your vision can transform the Middle East. Your vision is achievable. You arrived here already with an impressive record of answering our needs, particularly — and unforgettably — in the domain of security. I want to thank you personally, dear friend, for the long days and for many long, sleepless nights — you know about them — which you spend caring for our country and for our future.
We live in an age that is both global and domestic, inseparably. Interest may divide people; vision may unite them. There is common vision uniting us to confront the dangers, to bring peace closer as soon as possible. The greatest danger is a nuclear Iran — so you said, so you do. We trust your policy, which calls to, first, by non-military — to fight by non-military means with a clear statement that other options remain on the table. You made it clear that your intention is not to contain but to prevent.
We are trying together to start negotiations with the Palestinians. We already agreed that the goal is a two states for the two people solution. There is no better one, or more achievable one. We consider that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, is our partner in that effort to stop terror and bring peace.
Hamas remains a terror organization that targets innocent people. On our northern border, Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, continues to stockpile arms and threaten our civilians while they target innocent people across the world. Hezbollah is destroying Lebanon and supporting the brutal massacre of the Syrian people by President Assad. Fortunately, the Syrian nuclear capacity was destroyed. But unfortunately, thousands of chemical weapons remain. We cannot allow those weapons to fall in the terrorists’ hands. It could lead to an epic tragedy.
There is an attempt to bring spring to the Arab world. It is an Arab choice. It is an Arab initiative. It may bring peace to the region, freedom to the people, economic growth to the Arab states. If realized, it can lead to a better tomorrow. We pray it will become a reality.
I really believe the vision is within skeptics and those who believe in peace. Your voice will encourage belief. You came to us with a clear message that no one should let skepticism win the day — a vision that states clearly that peace is not only a wish, but a possibility. I fully support your call. There is no other way to make the future better. There is no better leader to make it possible.
Your visit is a historic step in that direction. We shall journey with you all the way. Thank you.
President Obama: Thank you so much.
Well, thank you, President Peres, for your very generous words and your warm welcome. It is wonderful to be here once again. I first visited you when I was still a senator and had the opportunity to visit the lovely garden, and for me to be able to bring a tree from the United States that will find a home in that garden I think is symbolic of not only the friendship between our two nations, but between the two of us personally.
Mr. President, you once remarked that a prime minister’s job is to rule, a president’s job is to charm. Well, as with all our visits together, I have once again succumbed to your charms and I’m grateful to your hospitality.
It is wonderful to be back in Jerusalem, the Eternal City. And I’m pleased to begin my visit with a son of Israel who’s devoted his life to keeping Israel strong and sustaining the bonds between our two nations. President Peres knows that this is a work of generations. Just as he joined the struggle for Israeli independence in his early 20s, he’s always looking ahead, connecting with young people. And I’m especially grateful for the time he allowed me to share with those extraordinary Israeli boys and girls.
Their dreams are much the same as children everywhere. In another sense, though, their lives reflect the difficult realities that Israelis face every single day. They want to be safe. They want to be free from rockets that hit their homes or their schools. They want a world where science and technology is created to build and not destroy. They want to live in peace, free from terror and threats that are so often directed at the Israeli people. That’s the future that they deserve. That’s the vision that is shared by both our nations. And that is Shimon Peres’s life work.
And, Mr. President, Michelle and I have such fond memories of your visit to the White House last spring, when I was honored to present you with America’s highest civilian honor — our Medal of Freedom. And that medal was a tribute to your extraordinary life, in which you have held virtually every position in the Israeli government.
So today was another opportunity for me to benefit from the President’s perspective on a whole range of topics — from the historic changes that are taking place across the region to the perils of a nuclear-armed Iran, to the imperatives of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, to the promise of our digital age.
And I should note that one of the advantages of talking to President Peres is not only does he have astonishing vision, but he’s also a pretty practical-minded politician and consistently has good advice in terms of how we can approach many of these problems.
I reaffirmed to President Peres, as I will throughout my visit, that in this work, the State of Israel will have no greater friend than the United States. And the work we do in our time will make it more likely that the children that we saw today alongside children from throughout the region have the opportunity for security and peace and prosperity.
This obligation to future generations I think was well symbolized by the tree planting that we started our meeting with. The Talmud recounts the story of Honi, the miracle worker, who saw a man planting a carob tree. And he asked the man, how long before this tree yields fruit? To which the man responded, “Seventy years.” And so Honi asked, “Are you sure you’ll be alive in another 70 years to see it?” And the man replied, “When I came into the world, I found carob trees. As my forefathers planted for me, so will I plant for my children.”
President Peres I think understands that story well. And so we want to all thank you for all the seeds you’ve planted — the seeds of progress, the seeds of security, the seeds of peace — all the seeds that have helped not only Israel grow but also the relationship between our two nations grow. And I believe that if we tend to them, if we nurture them, they will yield fruit in every hill and valley of this land, not only for the children we met today but for Israelis, for Palestinians, for Arabs across the region. That’s not only good for the children of this region, but it’s good for my children and the children of America.
I deeply believe that. And I couldn’t ask for a more wise or more thoughtful partner in that process. I’m very grateful for you hospitality, and I look forward to our continued work in the future.
President Obama then traveled to Netanyahu’s Residence for a bilateral meeting that was scheduled to last for 2 hours and 15 minutes.
President Obama presented Netanyahu with a framed wooden artifact from the George Washington Room in the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI. The synagogue is one of the oldest Jewish houses of worship in the United States that still stands, and its congregation dates back to the 1650s. President George Washington visited the synagogue in August of 1790, and in response to a letter from the congregation’s warden, wrote the famous Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport. The presentation of this special artifact includes a plaque with a passage from the letter, which reads “…every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”