France is offering to take part in an international force in Palestinian areas, an idea that the Palestinian Authority and Israel have begun to embrace in the Gaza Strip but which is opposed by Hamas, which has power there. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told the American Jewish Committee Thursday night that "France and Europe can, when circumstances permit and if the parties so wish, take part in an international force to support the Palestinian security services." France will be the next country to assume the presidency of the European Union, which has already sent monitors to the Gaza border crossing. With the heightened role of forces in Southern Lebanon, and as the violence in Palestinian areas has continue to roil the region, the possibility of an international force has been increasingly raised. Yet Hamas has been clear in its opposition to any force in the coastal strip it seized last year. Fillon also said that both sides must make painful compromises to achieve a peace agreement: Israel must freeze Jewish settlement building and loosen security controls, and the Palestinians must guarantee Israel's security, stop rocket attacks on Israel's south and release Gilad Schalit, a soldier held captive for almost two years. When it came to Iran, Fillon criticized the current leadership for its threats against Israel. "Their statements about Israel bear witness to their hostility and Israel shows its moral strength in not responding to these verbal provocations," he said. But he also repeated Sarkozy's pledge to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Speaking at the same AJC dinner, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen referred the Islamic Republic as the central challenge to US interests in the Middle East. "The very core of the challenge we face there is Iran," he said. "Their irresponsible influence extends well beyond Iraq and its borders," he said, referring to US claims that Iran is behind an intensification of violence in Iraq. "Their pursuit of nuclear weapons and their pursuit of terrorism and the perfect nightmare that is the two is a threat to Israel and a throughout the region," Mullen said.