JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated President Shimon Peres by phone early Thursday morning for receiving the Medal of Freedom, presented by President Barack Obama during a ceremony the evening before at the White House.
"Shimon, congratulations," Netanyahu told him. "You join a small and distinguished list. You are worthy of the medal and it is worthy of you. I think that this is a great honor for the State of Israel as well."
"Thank you for your dear and heartfelt words," Peres responded. "Thank you from my heart."
Peres, 88, became the second Israeli recipient of the prestigious award. The first was former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, who received the medal from President George W. Bush in 2006.
During the presentation, Obama called Peres a "true founding father" and a "fighter for peace."
"Tonight we have the privilege to be in the presence of a true founding father," Obama said. "We have a vision for the world as it ought to be and we have to strive for it."
Peres, who was a left-wing Labor politician for decades, was in on the ground floor of the Oslo Accords that kicked off the public negotiating process between Israel and the Palestinians nearly 20 years ago.
Peres said he was receiving the award "on behalf of the people of Israel," calling them "the true recipients of this honor."
The two leaders met privately before the awards ceremony where they reportedly talked about Iran's nuclear weapons program, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and strategic ties between Israel and the U.S.
Peres also asked Obama to grant convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard a pardon, but Obama, like his predecessors, refused.
Some Israelis had hoped Peres would refuse the medal unless Obama granted clemency to Pollard, whose health is deteriorating.
In January 2011, Netanyahu presented Obama with a formal letter for Pollard's release. Despite many such requests by leading politicians and public figures over the years, successive administrations have refused to release him. Pollard has served nearly 26 years of a 30-year sentence.
*Original publish on June 14, 2012.