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Iranians walk out on Peres during interfaith Astana parley

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    Iranians walk out on Peres during interfaith Astana parley HAVIV RETTIG GUR, JPost correspondent , THE JERUSALEM POST Jul. 1, 2009
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2009
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      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
      "Muslim solidarity."

      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
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