Israel is set to roll out the red carpet Sunday for French President François Hollande following France's firm stance in nuclear talks with Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week praised Hollande as a "close friend" of Israel.
French President François Hollande is set for a warm welcome when he visits Israel this weekend hoping to give fresh impetus to stalled peace talks with the Palestinians following France’s firm stance in negotiations with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Hollande’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was also present at the talks with Iran that ended in deadlock last weekend, is also travelling to Israel.
According to diplomatic sources, Western powers and Tehran were close to a deal in Geneva, but Iran backed off because it was unhappy with some of the wording in the text.
According to some reports, this was due to reservations expressed by the France and which were subsequently adopted by other powers. The talks are due to resume in Geneva next week.
FRANCE 24's Jerusalem correspondent Gallagher Fenwick said Israel had taken France's position in the negotiations "very seriously".
"This is the big issue in Israel right now," he said. "The path is clear for them to roll out the red carpet."
'A bad deal'
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who blasted the proposed agreement with Iran as “a bad deal”, has said he was "impatient" to meet Hollande.
"The French president is a close friend of the state of Israel and I look forward to hosting him... at a time when the major powers, including France, are discussing ways to halt the Iranian nuclear programme," Netanyahu said.
In an interview with French daily Le Figaro published on Saturday Netanyahu added: "We hope France will not yield."
"For us, the United States remains an important ally, the most important ally. But our relationship with France is also very special," he said.
"On the Iran issue, our countries have defended common stances for years, regardless of the party in power, and we are maintaining this vital partnership with President Hollande," he said. "We welcome his coherent and resolute stance on the Iranian issue."
France’s ‘tactical approach’ on Iran
Israel and world powers suspect the Islamic republic's programme of uranium enrichment to be a covert drive to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, an allegation Tehran vehemently denies.
Hollande's office said although France's "tactical approach" on Iran was different from Israel's bellicose stance, both wanted an end to Tehran's nuclear military drive.
The other main issues during the trip are the stalled Middle East peace process and stronger trade ties with Israel.
Hollande, whose delegation includes business leaders including the heads of firms such as Alstom, Arianespace and Vinci, wants to boost the level of bilateral trade, which stood at 2.3 billion in 2011.
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"Israel is a rich country and at the cutting edge of innovation but our trade is mediocre," a French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
Talks with Palestinians
The French leader, apart from holding talks with Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres, will also go to Ramallah for discussions with Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas.
French sources said he would encourage both sides to make the necessary compromises and efforts to overcome the obstacles to peace talks.
Hollande will make a series of highly symbolic gestures during his trip, where he will place a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and place a stone at the grave of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and his wife Leah.
On Monday, Hollande will meet French priests in the Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem's Old City, a building which the Ottomans donated to France in 1856.
He will also visit the grave of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004 in France in a hospital and whose remains were recently found to contain signs of polonium poisoning.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-11-16