05/06/2012 04:20 EDT | Updated 07/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Trade, Innovation Focus Of Israeli President's Visit To Canada


Israeli President Shimon Peres has started his first state visit to Canada with a mix of public ceremonies and private meetings.

Governor General David Johnston welcomed Peres during a formal ceremony at Rideau Hall, which featured a military guard of honour as well as schoolchildren waving Israeli flags.

The car carrying the Israeli president was escored by Mounties on horseback. A band played Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, as an artillery salute boomed out.

Johnston spoke of the ties between the two countries.

"Welcome to Canada," he said. "Israel and Canada have always had a close relationship based on our similar values and our collaboration in many spheres, including education, trade and science and technology.

"But I think what truly brings us together are the vibrant people-to-people exchanges that we enjoy and the knowledge-sharing in which we engage; what I like to call the diplomacy of knowledge."

Peres spoke in both French and English in reply, recalling that he first visited Canada 60 years ago.

"I am very, very grateful for your kind invitation to visit your wonderful country," he said. "I have the deepest gratitude and I bring that gratitude from Jerusalem to Ottawa for the deep friendship that has existed between our peoples from our first day of independence."

Johnston and Peres held a private meeting inside Rideau Hall's drawing room after the ceremony.

The president then moved on to Parliament Hill, where he was greeted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the rotunda of the Centre Block. Peres signed a guest book and met the Speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate.

Harper and Peres then went into a private meeting, where they were expected to discuss issues of trade and security.

Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, arrived in Ottawa Sunday night for a five-day state visit which also includes events in Toronto and Montreal.

Research, trade focus for tour

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told CBC News the Israeli president's visit "comes at a time when relations between Israel and Canada are strong and getting stronger."

The purpose of the trip is the promotion of greater collaboration between Canada and Israel with respect to trade and innovation, particularly in the areas of science and technology.

"I will take this special opportunity to discuss with him how we can strengthen research and educational collaboration between our countries,” said Gov. Gen. David Johnston in a statement ahead of the Israeli president's arrival.

The Governor General will host a state dinner in honour of the visit at Rideau Hall Monday evening.

On Tuesday, Peres and the Governor General are expected to talk about innovation and education before a Memorandum of Understanding is signed between the Royal Society of Canada and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

The Israeli President will also meet privately with the leader of the Official Opposition Thomas Mulcair and interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.

In the evening, Peres will give a "major" speech at a reception to celebrate 64 years of Israel’s independence hosted by the Embassy of Israel in Canada at the National Gallery in Ottawa.

On Wednesday, Peres will travel to Toronto where he will meet with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, attend a roundtable discussion on brain research, and take part in a public event hosted by David Frum and organized by the United Jewish Appeal federation of Greater Toronto.

Peres will wrap-up his state visit in Montreal on Thursday where he will meet with Quebec Premier Jean Charest and attend an event organized by the Jewish community.

Speaking at the American Jewish Congress in Washington, D.C. last Thursday, Baird said "Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada."

Israel's prime minister visited in March

Peres is the second high-profile Israeli politician to visit Canada in recent weeks -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Ottawa in March.

Israel's president is a ceremonial role, though Peres, now 88, has served as the country's prime minister in the past and is a highly influential figure.

In March, Netanyahu came to Ottawa looking for support for the idea of a pre-emptive strike to blunt Iran's ambitions to have nuclear weapons.

But Harper, a staunch supporter of Israel, used toned-down language, expressing the desire for a peaceful solution.

Peres in the past has taken a softer stand on Iran.

Baird and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty toured Israel in late January, for talks focused on both security and trade issues.