Hollande vows not to let up Iran sanctions without guarantees

In mostly sympathetic Knesset speech, French president calls on Israel to cease settlements, says status quo is untenable

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Francoise Hollande speaking at the Knesset last month (Screenshot: Knesset Channel)
Francoise Hollande speaking at the Knesset last month (Screenshot: Knesset Channel)

France will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, French President Francois Hollande told the Knesset on Monday. He assured Israeli lawmakers that Paris will not allow the international community to lift sanctions on Tehran unless it has firm guarantees the Islamic Republic has abandoned its plans to produce such weapons.

“I affirm here that we will maintain the sanctions until we are certain that Iran has definitely and irreversibly given up its military nuclear program,” Hollande said.

However he said a deal would eventually be signed which would be to the world’s satisfaction.

“We set requirements, preventing access to nuclear weapons in Iran,” he said. “The sanctions are having an effect — Iran is considering [a deal]. There will be an agreement, which will be good for the entire region, for Israel, Iran and the entire world.”

Addressing the plenum of Israel’s parliament at a special session in honor of his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Hollande also called on the government to make the bold steps necessary for peace, including halting any settlement construction.

“Peace is the most beautiful of mankind’s achievements. Peace will be your victory, your greatest victory,” he said. Ending his 30-minute speech with some Hebrew, he wished “a long life of peace to the people of Israel.”

The French president’s visit to the country has been overshadowed by Paris’s tough stance on nuclear talks between six world powers and Iran in Geneva, which prevented the signing of an interim deal last Saturday. This deal, which, Israel fears, could be achieved when talks are resumed Wednesday, would grant Tehran limited sanctions relief in exchange for a partial freeze in its nuclear program.

“We have nothing against Iran — it’s a country that developed out of a long and great history; we have nothing against its people, who deserves access to civil energy, including nuclear energy,” Hollande said in a speech mostly sympathetic to Israel, in which he spoke at length about bilateral relations and the long and happy relationship between France and the Jewish people. “But, no, we cannot allow them access to nuclear weapons, because that would be a threat to Israel, to other countries in the region, but also a danger to the world.”

France, the US, Russia, Britain, China and Germany — the so-called P5+1 — made a “serious, credible and solid proposal” to Iran during last week’s negotiations on Iran, Hollande said. He added that it was his foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, who made sure all that his demands were taken into consideration, and guarantees promised, before any deal is signed. “Now it’s up to Iran to respond. Not simply with words or vague promises, no, but by concrete and verifiable measures.”

Given its volatile geopolitical situation, Israel has the right to “defend itself, to protect its existence and to guarantee the security of its people,” Hollande acknowledged. “I know that you count on your profound [military] power, but know that France is here, and that it is your friend.”

Hollande also spoke of the “urgency” with which a final-status agreement — which would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — needs to be signed. “The status quo is untenable,” he said.

The French president lauded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the steps he took to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinian Authority earlier this year, referring to the release of dozens of convicted Palestinian terrorists. “That was necessary. Additional gestures must follow.”

He also said he told PA President Mahmoud Abbas about the efforts he needs to make and “the realism” with which he needs to reach an agreement, hinting at comments he made earlier Monday in Ramallah. During his visit to the Muqata’a, Hollande had told Abbas that the Palestinians “need to make efforts to deal with difficult and complicated problems, notably the refugees.”

A future Palestinian state needs to be viable, Hollande said. “That’s why the settlements have to cease, because it compromises the two-state solution.” He also called on Israel to improve conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank, so that their economy can grow.

After the plenum session, Hollande was hosted by President Shimon Peres at a state dinner in his honor at the President’s Residence.

“Israel thanks you for the brave stance you have taken against Iran’s dangerous nuclear ambitions,” Peres said at the dinner. “Your statements, and those of your Foreign Minister Fabius, were clear and strong. They impact the entire international community. You made clear that without massive pressure on Iran, Iran would not cease to be a threat to Israel, to the Middle East and the entire world. This pressure should not be stopped because of words alone, only when we see results. You made clear Mr. President that your position will not change until the situation changes.”

Hollande said, in response, that when France demands that Iran not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, it does so for the sake of peace — not only of Israel and of France but of the entire world.”

Hollande also expressed his opposition to anti-Semitism and added that the struggle against racism was also part of the search for peace. Quoting King Solomon, Hollande said that “the happiness of your neighbors will bring security to you,” and said this was his wish for “all of the people of Israel.”

In a joint interview with Peres and Hollande aired on French TV Monday night, the French president said his country had held back the P5+1 from making a bad deal in Geneva.

“France had requirements and convinced the entire P5+1. Iran has the right to nuclear [energy] but a nuclear weapon would be a danger not just for Israel but the entire world,” he said. “We demarcated clear red lines – not every deal will be accepted, but rather only one that will prevent Iran from nuclear weapons capability.”

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