royal in knesset 298 aj.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal showed her support for a number of Israel's key policy stances regarding Iran and Hamas as she spoke with journalists in Jerusalem on Monday at the end of her two-day visit to Israel.
She took a particularly hard line against Iran's nuclear development when she stated her opposition to that country's drive to develop enriched uranium even for non-military uses.
"We have to stop it from producing uranium even for civilian use," she said.
"There are those who say that I do not understand the situation, but I do. I have long contended that Iran with nuclear power is not just a danger for Israel but for the rest of the world," Royal said. Once Iran has the ability to produce uranium for civilian consumption, there is nothing to stop Iran from using it to develop nuclear weapons, she added.
If elected in the spring, she said, she would push the international community to take an equally hard line on the issue.
She said as much to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when she met with him earlier in the evening. "He thanked me for my opinions," she said.
The Socialist's stance on Iran is tougher than France's position. Paris wants to punish Teheran for failing to halt uranium enrichment - which can produce material for atomic warheads as well as energy - but it says that, in principle, Iran can have access to nuclear power.
This trip marks both Royal's first trip to the region and the first time she has made such public policy statements about the Middle East.
In France, foreign policy is the near-exclusive domain of the president and will be a major part of her job, if she is elected.
When it comes to negotiating on France's behalf, she said, she would not meet with Hamas members of the Palestinian Authority, even though she has spoken out previously in support of recognizing any country's elected leader.
When in Lebanon on Friday, she was criticized by other politicians for her decision to meet with a Hizbullah member of the Lebanese parliament.
Still, she told reporters in Jerusalem that she drew the line with Hamas because it was a terrorist organization. Her stance on this would change, she said, if Hamas were to renounce terror and recognize Israel's right to exist and past diplomatic agreements with Israel.
She took a more pro-Israel stance than the French government when it came to the issue of Israeli surveillance flights over Lebanon - a move which has draw sharp criticism both from the French government and the French forces in south Lebanon.
Royal said she understood the concerns and fears of the French forces on the ground but that, at the same time, Israel had a right to take steps which it deemed necessary for self-defense. On the subject of the security fence, she said that its route was best set during negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Royal made her statement the day before Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was set to embark on a two-day trip to France, where she is expected to meet her counterpart, Philippe Douste-Blazy, and French President Jacques Chirac. Livni is also scheduled to address the joint Israeli-French Chamber of Commerce and to meet with Royal's contender for the position, Nicolas Sarkozy, who visited Israel last year.
Sarkozy's camp attacked Royal's five-day trip to the region, alleging that it was "poorly prepared," "useless for peace" and "dangerous." Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie suggested that Royal may have endangered French lives in Lebanon, where France has 1,500 troops in the UN peacekeeping force monitoring the cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah.
Sarkozy was more measured, noting that the Middle East is "extremely complicated."
But one of his close advisers, Francois Fillon, showed no such restraint. He told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper that Royal had "fallen into Hizbullah's trap."
He attacked Royal not just for meeting with the Hizbullah lawmaker but for failing to react to his statement comparing Israel's former occupation of Lebanon to that of the Nazis in France during World War II.
The next day, as criticism of her mounted, Royal insisted that she simply hadn't heard the remark made in Arabic and translated for French reporters covering her trip.
Royal, who had a different translator, said she would have left the meeting in protest if she had heard. The comments, she said, were "unacceptable, abominable and hateful."
Still, Fillon said, "Accepting to speak with a member of Hizbullah, which advocates the destruction of Israel, was already a mistake. Letting him insult France's allies - whether they are the United States or Israel - without reacting, is another serious mistake."
Royal is not the first Western politician to have hit trouble on a Middle Eastern foray. In 1999, a trip by Hillary Clinton was also portrayed by her critics as a political disaster - after she failed to immediately react to inflammatory comments by Suha Arafat, Yasser Arafat's wife. Mrs. Arafat claimed Israelis have used poison gas against Palestinians.
But Royal was still returning from the Middle East with photos of herself shaking hands with Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian leaders - statesmanlike images that could stay in voters' minds long after the criticism surrounding her trip has died down.
On Sunday she met with Livni and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. On Monday she saw Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik.
She also paid respects at Israel's official Holocaust museum Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, devoted to the memory of six million Jews killed in Nazi extermination camps during World War II. In a note she wrote in the museum's visitor's book, she called Holocaust survivors "the true heroes of our time."
AP and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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