UNITED NATIONS - Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom met and had a brief exchange here Tuesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in what Israeli officials said was the first ever formal contact between the two countries.
Shalom and other Israeli officials said the short conversation - which included handshakes and pleasantries - occurred at the UN General Assembly just before the start of its annual debate because of the alphabetical manner in which countries' delegations are seated.
"We were sitting next to each other," Shalom told reporters at his midtown Manhattan hotel. "It was an opportunity to talk one to another.
"We shook hands and I told him I hoped peace would come in the near future and all of them smiled and they shook my hands and that was it," he said of the three-minute exchange.
Allawi was accompanied to the UN General Assembly meeting by two other officials, all of whom Shalom and his delegation said they had spoken with.
"It was the first contact ever," Shalom said, voicing hope that a democratic revolution might be spurred if Iraq is able to hold free and fair elections as planned in January.
He declined to reveal what, if anything, Allawi had said in response and Iraqi officials could not be immediately reached to comment on the interchange.
Shalom said in June that his country would like diplomatic relations with Iraq, but that it was up to Iraq to decide if and when that would happen.
In his comments to reporters, Shalom raised the possibility of a peace treaty being signed between Israel and Iraq and but could not assess its likelihood in the near future.
He said he planned to meet with a number of other Arab officials, including the prime and foreign ministers of Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Mauritania.
Shalom said he had met on Monday in New York with the foreign ministers of Tunisia and Oman.
"My message is always a message of peace," he said.