Colombian president downplays Jerusalem office: ‘we are being practical’

Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez was in Israel this week to promote cooperation between his country and Israel, especially in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship.

In that sense, Colombia opened the first office of iNNpulsa, its entrepreneurship and innovation agency, abroad in Israel, in Jerusalem, in fact.

Colombia joined countries like Brazil, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in taking what Israel sees as a step toward recognizing its sovereignty in Jerusalem.

And indeed, Duque said in his 2018 election campaign that he would be willing to move the embassy to Jerusalem, but Duque did not even visit his country’s new office in Israel’s capital and was more circumspect on the issue in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez, November 8, 2021 (credit: CHAIM TZACH / GPO)

When asked why he made the change, Duque said that fostering innovation and entrepreneurship is one of his priorities.

“I was inspired by the concept of ‘Start-Up Nation,'” he said. “Israel has its Innovation Authority in Jerusalem, and it wanted the office to be close to the agency here. Since we have the free trade agreement [signed last year] I wanted to connect the dots between our innovation system and Israel’s …[and] bring Colombian entrepreneurs to interact with the agency ”.

When asked if opening an office in Jerusalem represents Colombia’s recognition of the city as the capital of Israel, Duque did not answer affirmatively, but said: “We have to be very practical.

“I am visiting Jerusalem, I am staying in Jerusalem, I am visiting the Prime Minister’s Office, the President’s Office in Jerusalem,” he said. “Our presence here, a state visit, is a symbol that we are here to strengthen the bilateral relationship.”

Duque attributed the lack of a visit to the innovation office to the fact that it is just getting started and there is not much activity there and said he would rather use his time to visit places like the Israel Innovation Authority, Start-Up Nation Central. and the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.

Not going to the Colombian innovation office “doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “The most important thing is that very soon the office will be full of businessmen and visitors capable of interacting with the Israeli ecosystem. I’m glad the office is opening here. “

Israeli diplomats worked for two years with Colombia to open an embassy or office in Jerusalem. A diplomatic source said Israel views the step positively, even if Duque is citing the location of the Israel Innovation Authority as his reason, rather than Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Duque is “a great friend of Israel and relations with Colombia are at their peak,” the source said. “Colombia is today our greatest ally in Latin America.”

Among the ways Colombia has shown its friendship in recent years is by designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, abstaining on critical votes at the United Nations, and signing a declaration against anti-Semitism at the UN Human Rights Council.

Additionally, Duque went to the Western Wall this week, which remains a rare occurrence for visiting dignitaries.

“It was a very important spiritual experience,” said the Colombian president, adding that “he expressed gratitude and praise to God, and he always asks for the best possible wisdom, but most importantly, the best prognosis for our nation.”

“I am a Catholic, I really practice my religion and I also believe that visiting the Western Wall is a way to honor the roots of our religion. We always have to remember that Jesus was a Jew, that this historical site has suffered many adversities … It was an important Temple in the history of mankind. It is a way of honoring traditions and legacy, but also of praising the Jewish community in Colombia … expressing our admiration and gratitude to the Jewish people, ”added Duque.

Colombia became a member of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency in September, taking a key position in monitoring Iran’s nuclear program.

Duque said Colombia supports the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 Iran Agreement is known, and called for it to be implemented. Iran and the United States are ready to resume negotiations on November 29 to rejoin the JCPOA.

“We have to express our concern, because for some time Iran has not allowed IAEA staff to control the sites in the agreement, so we will be on the Board of Governors doing our job and being quite loyal to the agreement and making sure the agreement is fulfilled [with],” he said.

As a member of the Board of Governors, Colombia “will not support any movement that creates danger or uncertainty or represents a threat to world peace,” Duque added.

Iran has a strong presence in Latin America, especially in Venezuela, which shares a border with Colombia, and especially through its Lebanese representative, Hezbollah. Colombia banned the Shiite terrorist organization in 2020.

“Colombia always shared intelligence with Israel to combat international terrorism,” Duque said, noting that earlier this year, Colombian authorities foiled a Hezbollah plot to attack Jewish facilities in Bogotá, and a member of an ISIS cell was arrested in Bogotá last week.

“Israel knows that Colombia is its number one ally in Latin America, and our intelligence capabilities have been built over time, dedicated to identifying terrorism, including Hezbollah, in Latin America,” he said.

Duque said that the ties between Israel and Colombia are based on shared values ​​of “democracy, security as a public good and a cornerstone of democracy … private initiative as an engine of social transformation, innovation, creativity and market construction.”

The free trade agreement signed last year shows the strength of those ties, he added, and expressed the hope to build on it. To that end, he attended the inauguration of the Israel-Colombia business council on Tuesday.

“The next challenge is to do better, to increase the pace of our trade and the things that we are going to build,” he said. “We are going to see progress over time, with the private sector investing in this relationship, which is something we value.”

With the United Nations Climate Change Conference still underway in Glasgow and Israel pledging to reduce its carbon footprint for decades to come, Duque said Colombia and Israel can work together on “their-tech-capacity”, their combination. technology to promote sustainability.

“Colombia has been a regional leader in energy transition, advancing 0.2% [renewables] to 20% by the end of next year and developing solar and wind capacities. We also identified a green hydrogen energy roadmap and we can become a very important hydrogen energy export center to Israel, and Israeli companies can produce hydrogen in Colombia, ”he stated.

Colombian biodiversity can go hand in hand with Israel’s technological knowledge, suggested Duque.

“We can use our joint efforts to reach 50% of CO2 production by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050,” he said.

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