France will uphold economic sanctions on Iran as long as the Islamic Republic does not prove it has taken serious steps toward curbing its nuclear program, French President Francois Hollande said Sunday at the opening of a state visit to Israel.
“France will not make concessions on nuclear proliferation,” Hollande pledged during a ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport, upon his arrival. “France will maintain all its measures and sanctions until we are certain that Iran has renounced nuclear weapons.”
The French president arrived Sunday for a high-profile visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in the midst of ongoing deliberations over Iran’s nuclear program.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Hollande, and praised the French president’s dedication to the Jewish state. ”Israel sees in France a true friend,” he said at the ceremony. The prime minister went on to warn of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, saying it “wouldn’t just endanger Israel and the countries in the Middle East but it would also endanger France, Europe and the entire world.”
“You, Mr. President, display an aggressive stance against Syria and also against Iran’s unceasing efforts to arm itself with a nuclear weapon,” Netanyahu continued, addressing Hollande in an allusion to reports that France had scuttled a deal with Iran in nuclear talks earlier this month in Geneva.
“Vive la France, vive l’Israel, vive l’amitie entre la France et l’Israel,” Netanyahu said.
Hollande, speaking in Hebrew, assured Netanyahu that he would “always remain a friend of Israel.”
President Shimon Peres greeted Hollande with enthusiasm as well, and praised his French counterpart for his country’s firm stance during the recent negotiations with Iran. Israel was “full of admiration for [Hollande's] unflinching stance to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Peres said.
“We stand, together, against this attempt, which hangs as a dark shadow over the skies of the Middle East; in fact, over the skies of the entire world. It is a stain on the Iranian people, many of whom yearn for freedom,” he added.
Later Sunday, Hollande was set to meet with Netanyahu to discuss a new round of nuclear talks with Iran slated for Wednesday in Geneva. He is also expected to deliver a speech in the Knesset later this week.
“They’re coming as friends and will be received as friends,” Netanyahu said of the French delegation at the weekly cabinet meeting just two hours before Hollande’s plane touched down in Tel Aviv.
Hundreds of police were deployed in the capital in honor of the French president’s arrival, and Route 1, the highway leading from Ben-Gurion Airport to Jerusalem, was closed for several hours.
The trip is Hollande’s first to Israel as head of state since his election in May 2012.
In last week’s talks in Geneva between Iran and the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — the so-called P5+1 — Paris’s tough position on Iran was said to have prevented the global powers from signing an interim agreement with Tehran, one that would have included limited sanctions relief in return for a partial freeze of the country’s nuclear program.
France apparently blocked what its foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, called “a sucker’s deal,” although US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was the Iranians who chose not to sign the accord last Saturday. US officials say a deal on the terms presented at Geneva could be signed when the talks resume on Wednesday.
According to a report in the Israel daily Maariv Sunday, Israeli officials have come to terms with the fact that a partial deal with Iran will be signed as early as this month. However, the officials said two clauses favorable to Israel’s stance can be added, namely demanding that the Arak heavy water reactor be kept shut and that uranium enriched to over 20 percent be converted into fuel rods.
On Friday, Netanyahu told French daily Le Figaro that Israel stood behind France and called on Hollande “not to waver” on the country’s objections to an interim nuclear deal with Tehran. ”We hope that France will not yield in its stance toward Iran,” Netanyahu told the French newspaper.
Netanyahu and Hollande were set to sign a joint statement Sunday hailing “the continued growth of bilateral relations” and expressing “the determination to continue and deepen cooperation in many areas of strategic importance, and the strengthening of economic, scientific, educational and cultural ties between the two countries,” the Prime Minister’s Office announced.
In Jerusalem, Hollande planted a tree in the garden of the President’s Residence and held a first meeting with Peres. He was also set to lay a wreath at the grave of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl and place a stone on the grave of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and his late wife, Leah.
Accompanied by Peres and Netanyahu, Hollande was to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum later Sunday and lay a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance.
On Monday, Hollande, along with Fabius, will continue to Ramallah for meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In the late afternoon, Hollande will address the Knesset plenum, which will convene for a special session in his honor. Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich are also scheduled to speak.