Israel, Mideast Foes in Historic Handshake at Vatican
Moshe Katsav, Israel’s ceremonial president, shooks hands with President Bashar Assad of Syria and President Mohammad Khatami of Iran at Pope John Paul II’s funeral.
Israel’s president said he shook hands with the leaders of Syria and Iran at a Vatican funeral Friday when in his death Pope John Paul brought together Middle East foes as no man alive ever had. Gathered with hundreds of international dignitaries, Israel’s Moshe Katsav had historic chance encounters with President Bashar Assad of Syria, a country formally at war with the Jewish state, and President Mohammad Khatami of Iran. A senior Israeli government official said it was too early to say whether the contacts, believed to be the first time an Israeli president had shaken hands with Syrian and Iranian leaders, would translate into future diplomacy.
There was no immediate comment from Iran or Syria on the encounters, first reported by Israel Radio. Nor was it clear whether they were captured on film or videotape. “The Syrian president sat in the chair behind me … we exchanged smiles and shook hands,” Katsav, who holds a largely ceremonial post as head of state, was quoted as telling the Web site of Israel’s Maariv newspaper. The Iranian-born Katsav also said he spoke at the Vatican funeral in his native Farsi with Khatami about their common city of birth. Iran officially seeks Israel’s destruction. “The president of Iran extended his hand to me, I shook it and told him in Farsi ‘may peace be upon you’,” Katsav told the Web site.
My guess is that the net effect on Middle East peace of this encounter will approximate zero.