I wonder how this will be reported by the state-controlled media in Iran and Syria– if at all.
President Moshe Katsav shook hands and chatted briefly Friday with the leaders of Israel’s arch-enemies, Syria and Iran, during the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the president’s office said.
Katsav told Israeli media that he shook hands twice with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who sat one row behind him during the service. Dignitaries were seated in alphabetical order, according to their countries.
The Iranian-born Katsav also spoke briefly with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami in Farsi.
Katsav said that as he was leaving, “the Iranian president held his hand out to me. I shook his hand and greeted him in Farsi.”
Update: The official Syrian news agency SANA was at pains to put the Katsav-Assad handshake in context, quoting a source who explained that “the ceremony and the rites” necessiated it.
“Mr. Katsav turned to President Bashar al-Assad who was standing amid a host of leaders and presidents and shook hands with him with out exchanging any verbal phrases”, the source told the Syrian Arab News Agency SANA in reaction to what has been reported by media.
“This was an incidental case and had no real substance … it doesn’t change Syria’s stance which is based on the firm announced principles”, the source added.
Well, that’s a relief– although Katsav did say he shook hands with Assad twice, and the second time it was the Syrian leader who extended his hand.
Still no word that I can find from the official Iranian news agency.
Further update: Haaretz reports:
Khatami strongly denied that he shook hands with President Moshe Katsav at Pope John Paul’s funeral, the official IRNA news agency said on Saturday.
Katsav earlier said he shook hands with Khatami and Syrian President Bashar Assad at the funeral on Friday, when hundreds of international dignitaries gathered in the Vatican to pay homage to the late Pope.
But Khatami told IRNA after his return from Italy: “I strongly deny shaking hands, meeting and talking to the Israeli president.”
“This claim is like other baseless claims made by the Zionist media in the past,” he said.
No photo of The Handshake has appeared, so I guess you can believe whom you want. But they did stand suspiciously close together.