French President Hollande expected to receive warm welcome in Israel

Hollande's 3-Day trip to Israel comes on the heels of France's efforts to delay agreement with Iran at Geneva nuclear talks.

November 17, 2013 00:17
PM Netanyahu and French President Hollande

PM Netanyahu and French President Hollande 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – on the eve of a meeting on Sunday with French President François Hollande, the leader inside the P5+1 whose thinking on Iran is most closely aligned with his own – urged Paris to hang tough and not waver in the Iranian negotiations.

In an interview that appeared on Saturday with the French daily Le Figaro, Netanyahu said that Israel and France have shared a common position on Iran for many years, and that this has continued under Hollande.

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“We salute his consistent and determined position on Iran,” Netanyahu said. “We hope that France will not waver.”

Hollande and his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius are expected to receive an especially warm welcome when they arrive at the head of a large French delegation on Sunday for a three-day trip, Hollande’s first since becoming president 18 months ago.

French objections are widely viewed as having held up an agreement with Iran last Saturday night.

Iran is expected to be the central focus of the talks, but the Palestinian issue is also on the agenda, with Jerusalem bracing for criticism from Hollande over settlements.

Well aware of France’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries, Netanyahu stressed in the newspaper interview that there is a “meeting of the minds” between Israel and the “leading states in the Arab world” on this issue – “one of the few cases in memory, if not the first case in modern times.

“We all think that Iran should not be allowed to have the capacities to make nuclear weapons,” he said. “We all think that a tougher stance should be taken by the international community. We all believe that if Iran were to have nuclear weapons, this could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, making the Middle East a nuclear tinderbox.”

Saying that an Iran with nuclear arms would be the most dangerous development for the world since the mid- 20th century, and stressing that the “stakes are amazing,” Netanyahu urged the world’s leaders to pay attention “when Israel and the Arabs see eye-to-eye.”

“We live here,” he said. “We know something about this region. We know a great deal about Iran and its plans. It’s worthwhile to pay attention to what we say.”

Diplomatic officials said one reason for France’s tough position on Iran – the toughest position among the P5+1 states that also include the US, Russia, China, Britain and Germany – has something to do with its close ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are as adamantly opposed to Iran getting nuclear weapons as is Israel.

Asked what kind of deal Israel would be willing to countenance, Netanyahu cited previous UN Security Council resolutions saying that Iran should “roll back its nuclear weapons making capabilities, which means no centrifuges and no heavy water reactors.”

The prime minister urged against giving “any break” to Iran, which he said is enabling Syrian President Bashar Assad in the murder of tens of thousands of people, spreading terrorism around the globe, arming Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, calling for Israel’s destruction, and involved in subversion in many lands.

In a rare direct answer to a question about the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel has not signed, Netanyahu said the treaty has proven largely meaningless in the Middle East because the problems have arisen from those who did sign it, not those who did not.

He pointed out that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a signatory to the NPT, but tried to develop atomic bombs. In addition, Libya, Syria and Iran are all signatories, but blatantly violated it.

“So the problem in the Middle East is not those who don’t sign the NPT,” he said in an allusion to Israel. “The problem in the Middle East is those who do sign the NPT and leave it as an empty document.

“All proliferation is bad, but some of it is worse,” he said. “It really makes a difference whether Holland gets nuclear weapons or the ayatollah regime in Iran gets nuclear weapons. That’s a huge difference.

And this is the simplest thing to understand.”

Netanyahu also, in his own voice, discussed publicly for one of the first times Israel’s preference for a future arrangement in Syria, saying that between Assad and a rebellion widely infiltrated by jihadist elements, Israel was hoping for a “third way.”

An Assad victory, he said, “would be a sign of triumph for Iran.”

On the other hand, he said that he was well aware of the intentions of some rebel groups liked to al-Qaida.

“That is why we would like the possibility of another way to put an end to the Syrian tragedy,” he said, but did not elaborate.

Hollande is scheduled to arrive with his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, seven ministers and some 200 aides, businessmen and journalists at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.

After a welcoming ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport, he will go directly to the President’s Residence in the capital for a formal reception and meeting with President Shimon Peres.

He will then lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, visit Yitzhak Rabin’s grave, and go to Yad Vashem.

In the evening he has a private meeting planned with Netanyahu, followed by a joint press conference, and then dinner with the prime minister.

On Monday, following a visit to Jerusalem’s Old City, he will go to Ramallah for some five hours, after which he will return to Jerusalem, address the Knesset and attend a state dinner hosted by Peres.

On Tuesday, after visiting the graves at the Har Hamenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem of the victims of the March 2012 Toulouse terrorist attack, he will take part in a joint economic meeting in Tel Aviv and meet French Israelis at Tel Aviv University.

He will leave Tuesday afternoon.

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