By JIM KUHNHENNAssociated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama presented Israeli President Shimon Peres with the Medal of Freedom on Wednesday, calling him the essence of Israel itself and a man who earned his place in history long ago.
Obama said Peres, who served twice as Israel's prime minister and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, knows the necessity of strength but also understands that a nation's security depends on the righteousness of its deeds.
"The security of the state of Israel is non-negotiable," Obama said during a White House presentation of the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. "And the bonds between us are unbreakable."
Peres' Washington visit comes at amid rising violence in Syria and worries in the U.S. and Israel about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Peres said the threat posed by Iran's leaders must be stopped. But he said Israel supports Obama's efforts to pressure Iran, making a special point to note that Obama has declared that all options in dealing with Iran are on the table.
To Obama, Peres said: "You have pledged a lasting friendship for Israel. You stated that Israel's security is sacrosanct for you. So you pledged; so you act. So you are acting as a great leader, as a champion for peace."
Among those attending the black tie White House dinner were Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton. Also among the invited guests in the East Room were former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and some members of Congress, including Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, both veteran foreign policy specialists.
Following the dinner, the more than 80 guests were entertained by a violinist Itzhak Perlman, who opened with Fritz Kreisler's "Tempo di Minuetto."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.