The leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo said Sunday he would appoint an ambassador to Israel after a two-decade gap, inviting the Jewish state to build a close relationship.
Addressing the influential pro-Israel US lobby AIPAC, President Felix Tshisekedi said he was inspired in part by his Christian faith and thanked US evangelicals for supporting Israel.
"After more than 20 years of inadequate representation, I will name an ambassador in the coming days," he said, to applause, at the annual conference in Washington.
"I invite Israel to raise its diplomatic and economic presence in my country as high as relations can go between our two states and peoples," said Tshisekedi, who took office last year.
"This nation is a source of inspiration," he said. "It teaches us what man can do in such a short span of time when he has drive, resilience and, especially, divine grace and favor."
Tshisekedi said the ambassador would be posted in Tel Aviv but that a commercial section would be based in Jerusalem -- which Israel considers its undivided capital but where only the United States and Guatemala have moved their embassies.
Tshisekedi said he would visit Israel this year and was especially interested in science, technology and agriculture investment in his resource-rich but conflict-scarred nation.
Israel had a warm relationship with Mobutu Sese Seko, the US-allied dictator of the nation formerly known as Zaire, who in 1982 broke with most African states to restore relations with the Jewish state.
But relations stagnated as DR Congo descended into war and the last Israeli ambassador in Kinshasa left in 2003, according to the Israeli foreign ministry.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking to normalize the Jewish state's relationships around the world.
Most post-independence African nations distrusted Israel out of solidarity with its Arab rivals and due to Israel's alliance with apartheid South Africa.