Iranians walk out on Peres during interfaith Astana parley
- Iranians walk out on Peres during interfaith Astana parley
HAVIV RETTIG GUR, JPost correspondent , THE JERUSALEM POST Jul. 1, 2009
Carrying out their threat, the Iranian representatives staged a walkout
during President Shimon Peres's keynote address at the interfaith conference
in Astana, Kazakhstan on Wednesday morning, refusing to return as long as
the Israeli leader spoke.
"We have come to listen to religious leaders," a member of the Iranian
delegation told The Jerusalem Post, "and Peres is not a religious leader."
When asked if he would speak to the attending Israeli chief rabbis or any of
the American rabbis present, Mehdi Mostafavi, an adviser to Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said: "We'll see."
Iranian representatives only discovered Monday the extent of Israeli
participation in the interfaith conference that began Wednesday in Astana,
including the keynote address to be delivered by Peres, The Jerusalem Post
While Mostafavi had told the Post at the conference that religion could be a
factor for peace, the Iranian delegation has been threatening to leave in
the middle of Peres's speech.
Representatives of the host, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, were
insisting in discussions with the Iranians that a walkout on Peres would
amount to a walkout on Nazarbayev.
It was unclear as of the morning of the conference if the Iranian delegation
would even attend in the end.
The two-day Congress of World and Traditional Religions will open Wednesday
in the Kazakh capital. It is the third such congress hosted by Nazarbayev in
Astana - previous ones were in 2003 and 2006 - and is part of a broader
effort to position Kazakhstan as a meeting ground for discussing religious
With 60 business figures and government officials in Peres's entourage, this
is very much a working visit. But after the space technology agreement
signed Tuesday and agriculture, communications and construction projects
launched in high-level meetings, the visit will turn away from hard-nosed
business and diplomacy to what organizers hope will be the gentler
discussion about how religion can be brought to bear on the problems of the
Both of Israel's chief rabbis will be in attendance, alongside a cardinal
who leads interfaith issues in the Vatican, an Anglican bishop and
representatives of other Protestant denominations worldwide. Also scheduled
to attend are some of the top leaders of the Muslim world, including Sheikh
Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the venerable grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar
"Israel needs a country like Kazakhstan. This is Islam you can live with,
Islam you can join with to advance human progress, Islam that respects other
peoples," Industry and Trade Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told The
Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Ben-Eliezer is one of three cabinet ministers accompanying Peres on a
weeklong state visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, the first such visit by a
top Israeli leader.
The impressive spectrum expected at the gathering is precisely what
Nazarbayev has sought to create. It is an effort to make Kazakhstan's unique
religious openness - "a land without a drop of anti-Semitism," Peres called
the country during the visit - a lever for influencing the region.
This intermediary role is highlighted by the international roles the country
will undertake over the next two years.
In 2010, Kazakhstan will chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe, the first Central Asian country to lead the 56-member
organization whose center of gravity is the West and whose purpose is the
advancement of human rights.
Kazakhstan "intends to use its chairmanship to promote interreligious
dialogue," according to a government statement.
Then, in 2011, Kazakhstan will chair the Organization of the Islamic
Conference, a group composed of 57 nations that works on issues related to
The Kazakh Embassy in Washington looks forward to "the opportunity for three
consecutive years of interfaith dialogue on a prominent global stage."
Dozens more religious groups, including Buddhists from Thailand and China,
Zoroastrians, Shintoists from Japan and a large array of political figures
will also be at the conference.
"Religions have a deep effect on politics," Peres said in a joint press
conference with Nazarbayev in Astana on Tuesday. "If they could be mobilized
to the cause of peace, that would have a very large impact on the political