President Shimon Peres arrived in Paris on Tuesday for a three-day state visit as the guest of President Nicolas Sarkozy and Mayor Bertrand Delanoë.

Delanoë was in Israel last week to sign a cooperation agreement with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and to open the Portrait of Paris film festival.

The main purpose of the president’s visit to the French capital is to inaugurate Ben-Gurion Promenade. The ceremony is due to take place on Thursday despite opposition by the Communist Party and other pro-Palestinian elements.

In an interview with Israel Radio prior to his departure, Peres criticized Damascus for what said was its hypocritical policies.

“Syria claims that it wants peace, while simultaneously delivering Scud missiles to Hizbullah, which is constantly threatening the security of the State of Israel,” he said. “When I speak, I am in favor of peace. They [the Syrians] are in favor of war.”

Peres reiterated his opinion at his meeting with Prime Minister François Fillon, saying Damascus is playing a double game, speaking of peace on the one hand, and on the other delivering precision Scud missiles to Hizbullah in order to create a threat to Israel. Strengthening Hizbullah and other terrorist organizations contradicts any Syrian declaration about their desire for peace, said Peres.

“Syria reveals its true face by distributing weapons to terrorists,” he said.

Fillon told Peres how happy the French people were to have him on French soil, and said he had come at a critical juncture of the diplomatic process. Fillon restated France’s ongoing commitment to the peace process and emphasized the importance of renewing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

France is at the disposal of both sides in helping to facilitate the resumption of talks, he said.

Fillon assured Peres that France is on the same page as Israel in wanting to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons of mass destruction, and said that severe sanctions must be imposed if this aim is to be achieved.

Peres made the point that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran will have far-reaching effects way beyond the Middle East, and added that Israel as a nation of Jews who survived the Holocaust cannot be indifferent to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Such weapons in the hands of fanatics, he warned, especially the fanatics who are leading Iran, will have dire consequences for the peace of the world at large. If nuclear weapons had been available to Hitler, he said, “We would not be sitting here today.”

Peres said that US President Barack Obama, Sarkozy and all the leaders of Europe had his complete support in the struggle against a nuclear Iran.

Peres said he was confident that serious political negotiations would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Peres, who also met with Jewish community leaders, is scheduled to meet with additional representatives of the community on Wednesday, when he participates in an event organized by the Weizmann Institute of Science to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Theodor Herzl. Also participating in this event will be Nobel Chemistry Prize laureate Prof. Ada Yonath.

The president will also meet with leading political figures and with CEOs of France’s major telecommunications companies and other business leaders, to push economic ties and joint ventures.

He will conduct several news conferences, in an attempt to promote as much awareness as possible to the reality of the Iranian nuclear threat.

On Thursday, following the inauguration of Ben-Gurion Promenade in the heart of the 7th arrondissement on the Left Bank, Peres will have a tête à tête with Sarkozy to discuss strengthening Israel-French relations, measures to be taken against Iran and what else can be done to free abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who also holds French citizenship, from Hamas captivity.

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