France will never tolerate nuclear proliferation, President Francois Hollande vowed Sunday as he arrived in Israel for a visit dominated by the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
Hollande also made clear that the peace process was high on his agenda, saying France expected “gestures” from Israel over its construction of settlements in a bid to advance peace talks with the Palestinians.
France, and other major powers, held marathon talks with Iran in Geneva last weekend seeking to convince Tehran to freeze or curb its nuclear activities in exchange for some sanctions relief.
Israel expressed concern over the talks and warned Western powers against concessions, saying they will get a better deal if they keep the crippling sanctions in place or ratchet them up.
Hollande’s visit, the first since he became president in 2012, will also see him travel to the Palestinian territories to discuss the peace talks which have limped along for three months with little signs of progress.
With his ratings flatlining back home, Hollande will also use his three-day trip to try to boost trade with Israel, which stood at 2.3 billion euros ($3 billion) in 2011.
Even before leaving the tarmac of Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, Hollande addressed the question of Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which Israel views as its greatest threat.
“France considers nuclear proliferation to be a menace, a danger, and in Iran particularly — a menace to Israel, to the region and clearly a menace to the entire world,” he said.
“This is why France will not tolerate nuclear proliferation. And for France, as long as we are not certain that Iran has decided to give up on nuclear weapons, we will continue with all our demands and with sanctions.”
Hollande also laid out four demands which must be in place for an agreement with Iran.
“France is in favor of an interim agreement but on the basis of four points,” he said.
“The first demand: put all the Iranian nuclear installations under international supervision, right now. Second point: suspend enrichment to 20 percent. Thirdly: to reduce the existing stock.
“And finally, to halt construction of the Arak (heavy water) plant. These are the points which for us are essential to guarantee any agreement,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said he was “gravely concerned” that a deal between Iran and major powers will go through.
‘Unflinching stance’ on Iran
Last weekend’s Geneva talks ended without an agreement, but negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany are set to resume on Wednesday.
France has been praised in Israel for taking a tougher stance than its Western partners at the Geneva talks, and Israeli leaders were expected to pressure Hollande to remain strong.
“I’m concerned, gravely concerned, that this deal will go through and in one stroke of the pen, it will reduce the sanctions on Iran — sanctions that took years to put in place — and in return for this, Iran gives practically nothing,” Netanyahu told reporters, Hollande at his side.
“It’s clear that this agreement is good only for Iran and that it’s really bad for the rest of the world,” he said. “Iran’s dream deal is the world’s nightmare.”
And President Shimon Peres told Hollande “we are full of admiration for your unflinching stance to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons for mass destruction”.
“France fully understands the need to place effective pressure on Iran until it ceases to be a threat,” Peres also said.
Israel is the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the region, and along with world powers suspects Iran of trying to acquire a nuclear weapons capability — an allegation Tehran denies.
Netanyahu will fly to Russia on Wednesday for talks with President Vladimir Putin, as part of his drive to prevent world leaders from handing Iran “the deal of the century” by easing the sanctions.
He will also discuss the matter in Jerusalem with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday.
“I hope we’ll be able to convince our friends this week and in the following days to get a much better deal. It can be achieved,” Netanyahu said.
Meanwhile Hollande urged Israel and the Palestinians to make “gestures” on the thorny issue of Jewish settlements building which is threatening to sabotage peace talks.
“There are still gestures that need to be made (by both sides),” he said.
On Monday, Hollande will meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas at his Ramallah, West Bank, headquarters.
On the eve of the meeting Abbas told Agence France Presse the Palestinians “are committed to continue the negotiations for nine months, regardless of what happens on the ground” and then would decide their next move.
The two sides resumed direct talks in July after a nearly three-year hiatus.