Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads for his first official trip to Europe on Tuesday, aiming to press Italy and France to toughen sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.
AFP - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads for his first official trip to Europe on Tuesday, aiming to press Italy and France to harden sanctions against arch-foe Iran over its nuclear drive.
The hawkish Netanyahu will meet his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi in Rome and the following day will head to Paris, where he will meet President Nicolas Sarkozy as well as US Middle East envoy George Mitchell.
"Above all, the prime minister is planning to bring up the Iranian dossier," a senior government official told AFP.
"The scenes of violence and repression of the past days have lifted the mask of the bloody regime that doesn't hesitate to fire on unarmed protesters," said the official, requesting anonymity.
"With what is happening now in Iran, words and condemnations are not enough, the world must decide to take much harder measures to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear arms," he said.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Iran's nuclear programme constitutes the biggest threat to Israel since the Jewish state's founding in 1948.
Israel and main ally Washington suspect Iran of trying to acquire atomic weapons under the guise of its nuclear programme, a charge that Tehran has repeatedly denied.
The Jewish state is widely considered to be the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East and views Iran as its arch-enemy because of regular calls by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
In Italy, Netanyahu will ask Rome to reduce its commercial links with Iran, which have grown in recent years, according to the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot.
In both countries the prime minister will seek to put across his position on the stalled Middle East peace process in the aftermath of his speech on June 14 finally accepting the creation of a Palestinian state but imposing a slew of conditions slammed as unacceptable by the Palestinians.
Netanyahu will stress that any final peace deal will have to have Palestinian recognition of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people -- something the Palestinians have long rejected.
"The prime minister will explain that his words can be translated into acts only if the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state, which they refuse for the moment," the official said.
The issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank will also be on the agenda for the talks. The United States has repeatedly demanded a halt to all Israeli activity in the settlements, regarded by the international community as illegal.
Netanyahu has refused to stop construction, saying it will carry on in order to accommodate population increases.
"The prime minister will again say that Israel will not create new settlements, will not confiscate new lands and will insist on the fact that residents of settlements must be allowed to lead normal lives," the official said.
Netanyahu will also bring up the issue of improving relations between Israel and its main trading partner the European Union.
EU nations agreed late last year to enhance ties with Israel but the process stalled when Israel launched a deadly 22-day military offensive in the Gaza Strip in December.
Date created : 2009-06-23