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Netanyahu Visits France to Press for More Iran Sanctions

President Hollande and Prime Minister Netanyahu
President Francois Hollande, left, welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Photographer: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Francois Hollande said they would work together on toughening economic sanctions and trying to stop Iran from building an atomic bomb.

Netanyahu flew to Paris today for his first visit since Hollande took office in May and praised the French leader for his “strong” stance against Iranian nuclear development. The two also discussed efforts to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that have been frozen for two years.

“We must make sure that through pressure, sanctions and later through negotiations, Iran renounces its intention to have access to nuclear weapons,” Hollande said, standing next to Netanyahu during a press conference at the Elysee presidential palace. “I am working in that spirit.”

Netanyahu is making a fresh start in France after previous diplomatic strains that became evident when former President Nicolas Sarkozy was overheard at a Group of 20 summit last year telling President Barack Obama that Netanyahu was a liar and “I can’t stand him anymore.” Netanyahu hosted Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in Jerusalem last week and plans to visit Germany in December to press on tightening Iran sanctions.

Re-Election Race

The 63-year-old Israeli leader who is running for re-election to a third term in January repeated the warning he delivered at the United Nations last month that time is running out to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb, which he expects to be aimed at Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who regularly denounces Israel as an illegitimate regime that should “disappear,” says his country’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

“Given the history of the Jewish people, I would not sit by and write off a threat by those who say they are going to annihilate us,” Netanyahu said. Arab nations, he said, would also be “relieved” if the Iranian nuclear threat were removed.

Netanyah will meet Hollande, 58, again tomorrow in the southwestern city of Toulouse and take part in a memorial ceremony for the three children and a rabbi shot dead by a radical Islamist outside a Jewish school in March. From there, he will return to Israel.

“This is another opportunity for Netanyahu to put the Iran issue on the world stage,” David Vital, a European historian and emeritus professor at Tel Aviv University, said by telephone. “It’s also important for him to connect with members of the French Jewish community who have significant fears about their safety.”

Peace Efforts

Other issues that came up in talks with Hollande and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius were the stalled peace efforts with the Palestinians and how to manage the instability in Syria and other neighboring Arab countries.’’ Hollande agreed with Netanyahu that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s plan to seek recognition as a “non-member state” at the UN next month would not help resolving the conflict with Israel.

“There is the temptation of the Palestinian Authority to seek at the UN General Assembly that which it fails to obtain through negotiation,” Hollande said. “Only negotiation can lead to a definitive solution to the situation of Palestine.”

Hollande has met twice with Abbas since taking office, aides said.

Netanyahu’s last trip to Paris in May 2011 accentuated his differences with Sarkozy, who prodded the Israeli leader in a magazine interview on the eve of the visit to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state and put more energy into peace talks.

“I don’t see France’s foreign policy making any major turn” from maintaining a balance between Israeli and Palestinian policies, Jean-Yves Camus, a researcher at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations. “Stability with the traditional positions is what we should expect.”

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