Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won pledges from France’s president to push harder for new sanctions against Iran to keep it from developing nuclear weapons — but no empathy for any possible Israeli military strike against Iran.
In a visit to Paris on Wednesday, Netanyahu praised French pressure on Iran and called for tougher sanctions.”The sanctions are taking a bite out of Iran’s economy … unfortunately they have not stopped the Iranian program,” Netanyahu said.
At a joint press conference, Hollande said Iran has not proven its claim that its nuclear program is peaceful. France, he said, “is ready to vote for other sanctions, as many as necessary.”
Hollande has supported a push for tougher EU sanctions on Iran but wants to keep the door open to dialogue, and opposed Netanyahu’s talk of possible military action.
“It’s a threat that cannot be accepted by France,” Hollande said at Netanyahu’s side of the Iranian nuclear drive, warning that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the region and the world.
France, Hollande said, “is ready to vote for other sanctions, as many as necessary.”
“We must make sure that through pressure, sanctions and later through negotiations, Iran renounces its intention to have access to nuclear weapons. I am working in that spirit,” he said.
Israel has been an outspoken critic of Iran’s suspect nuclear program, repeatedly saying that Tehran is well on the way to developing an atomic bomb. Israel believes a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat to its very existence, citing Iranian leaders’ frequent calls for destruction of the Jewish state, Iran’s development of long-range missiles and Iranian support for Arab terrorist groups.
“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 told reporters. He said Arab nations, too, would be “relieved” if Iran were militarily prevented from obtaining nuclear arms.
“Five minutes after [such a strike], contrary to what the skeptics say, I think a feeling of relief would spread across the region,” he told the French weekly newspaper Paris Match in comments excerpted on Tuesday and to be published in full on Thursday.
“Iran is not popular in the Arab world, far from it, and some governments in the region, as well as their citizens, have understood that a nuclear-armed Iran would be dangerous for them, not just for Israel,” he said.
Netanyahu arrived in Paris Wednesday for a two-day state visit. Later in the day he was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
This was Netanyahu’s first meeting with Hollande since the French president’s inauguration in May. Hollande, the France 24 news agency reported, “has already welcomed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to Paris on two occasions, [but] has only spoken twice to Netanyahu by telephone.”
A source close to Netanyahu told AFP that “he hopes to build a good working relationship with the French leader.”
Paris Match quoted Netanyahu saying that while international strictures against Iran are damaging its economy, they haven’t slowed down its nuclear program in the slightest. The prime minister was said to have told the paper that Israel has acquired intelligence to that effect by covert means, and has shared it with Germany, France, Britain, and the United States.
Netanyahu said Tehran has accelerated its uranium enrichment in recent years for the purpose of acquiring nuclear weapons, and stressed that Israel reserves the right to defend itself.
On Thursday, the two heads of state are scheduled to attend a memorial ceremony at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, where terrorist Mohammed Merah in March killed Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two sons, and eight-year-old Myriam Monsonego.