French president arrives in Israel; Iran high on agenda

French President Francois Hollande (right) and Israeli President Shimon Peres are shown during a welcome ceremony Sunday at the Israeli president's residence in Jerusalem.
(Abir Sultan / EPA)

JERUSALEM — Arriving for a state visit, French President François Hollande was warmly welcomed Sunday by Israeli leaders praising France’s historic support of the Jewish state and more recently, its strong stand on Iran.

With the full red-carpet reception reserved for heads of state, Hollande was met by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who welcomed the visitor on his first trip to Israel as president.

Hollande’s three-day visit, with a large delegation that includes Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, has an agenda that includes a wide range of diplomatic and bilateral issues. Still, just days ahead of the next round of nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva, his visit was given added weight as a result of France’s role in delaying an agreement with Iran earlier this month.

Praising Hollande for his “unflinching stance” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons as well as a strong stand against Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Peres expressed confidence in France’s support for peace and opposition to terrorism.

Noting France’s active encouragement of the peace process with the Palestinians, Peres thanked Hollande for his visit “at this crucial time” and for standing by Israel.


Speaking about the prospects for a deal with Iran in Geneva later this week, Hollande said Paris will continue to demand that sanctions remain in place until Iran demonstrates that it has given up its quest for nuclear weapons. “Iran is a threat to Israel, to the region and the whole world,” he said.

Hollande made clear his support of the peace talks, expressing high hopes for the outcome but stressing to his Israelis hosts that they will “need courage.” The French president will also visit the West Bank on Monday for talks with Palestinian leaders.

Coinciding with the opening of talks in Geneva, Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Moscow for meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In addition, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry plans to return to Israel on Friday for discussions with Netanyahu on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Kerry will be on standby to fly to Geneva in case an agreement is reached while he is in Israel, media reported.


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