Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Tuesday confirmed he met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York last week, but denied the encounter with the Israeli leader was a pre-planned secret meeting.
Kalla told reporters in Jakarta on Tuesday that even though the two countries have no diplomatic ties, he discussed Mideast peace initiatives with Netanyahu because it was important to “know both sides.”
He underscored “there was no private meeting,” for the two leaders to meet, but it was hard to avoid the Israeli leader at the annual General Assembly in New York.
“There were 190 heads of state, presidents and vice presidents, prime ministers, etc there,” Kalla said according to Antara News. “You could come face to face with anyone. You could not have avoided it. [Netanyahu] was suddenly just beside me, should I have turned around?”
“If we want to help create peace in a country we must know both sides,” he added. “Therefore, when we met and introduced each other we talked about peace.”
While the annual confab usually features a who’s who of world leaders, handlers and others usually work to avoid awkward situations and keep rivals from bumping into each other.
On Sunday, Army Radio reported that Netanyahu and Kalla met in secret last week during the General Assembly. According to the report, the meeting was kept under wraps in light of the strong pro-Palestinian sentiment in Indonesia.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has never had formal diplomatic ties with Israel and has long been a strong supporter of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
Israeli officials have in the past spoken of clandestine links and called for the establishment of formal ties, but have been rebuffed by the Indonesian government.
Israel has refused to say if it has offered aid to Indonesia in the wake of a deadly earthquake and tsunami that smashed into the city of Palu, killing at least 1,300 people and leaving hundreds of thousands more desperate for food, water and shelter.