France's President Francois Hollande and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - Reuters.
France's President Francois Hollande, left, and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, October 31, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Francois Hollande called Wednesday for firmer sanctions on Iran to keep it from developing nuclear weapons.

In a visit to Paris on Wednesday, Netanyahu praised French pressure on Iran and called for "even tougher sanctions."

"The sanctions are taking a bite out of Iran's economy ... unfortunately they have not stopped the Iranian program," he said.

Israel has been an outspoken critic of Iran's suspect nuclear program, repeatedly saying that Tehran is well on the way to developing an atomic bomb.

"Given the history of the Jewish people, I would not sit by and write off a threat by those who say they are going to annihilate us," he told reporters. He said Arab nations, too, would be "relieved" if Iran were militarily prevented from obtaining nuclear arms.

Tehran insists it's not developing atomic weapons. But French President Francois Hollande said Wednesday that Iran has not proven that its nuclear program is only aimed at civilian use.

Hollande has supported a push for tougher EU sanctions on Iran but wants to keep the door open to dialogue, and opposed Netanyahu's talk of possible military action.

"It's a threat that cannot be accepted by France," Hollande said at Netanyahu's side, warning that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the region and the world.

Hollande said that France "is ready to vote for other sanctions, as many as necessary."

"We must make sure that through pressure, sanctions and later through negotiations, Iran renounces its intention to have access to nuclear weapons. I am working in that spirit," he said.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran if it concludes that international sanctions and diplomacy are failing to halt the nuclear program.

In a speech to the United Nations last month, Netanyahu suggested that the world had until next summer at the latest to act or it would be too late to prevent the Iranians from making a bomb.

In his comments Wednesday, Netanyahu said he hopes the issue will be resolved peacefully.

Netanyahu and Hollande also talked about the possibility of resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in Paris.

"President Hollande can invite [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas to the Elysee," the French presidential palace, Netanyahu said. "I'm here, I'm ready... The only way we can complete the negotiations is to begin them."

Hollande responded: "That's a good idea."

The two leaders disagreed, however, about other issues. France has long opposed settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and supports the creation of a Palestinian state. 

France also voted for Palestinian membership in UNESCO, the Paris-based UN cultural and educational body, a year ago. The Palestinian president is now moving forward with his plan to seek upgraded observer status at the UN in New York next month, despite American and Israeli threats of financial or diplomatic retaliation.

Netanyahu criticized Palestinian efforts toward international recognition before a peace deal is reached, saying, "going to the UN with unilateral declarations is not negotiations. It's the opposite of negotiations."

Following talks with Netanyahu in Paris, Hollande called for an "unconditional" resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He added that France was still committed to a two-state solution in the Middle East but warned the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas against trying to force the issue unilaterally.

"There is the temptation of the Palestinian Authority to seek at the UN General Assembly that which it fails to obtain through negotiation," he said, referring to Abbas' plans to seek enhanced "non-member observer state" status at the UN for a Palestinian state. "Only negotiation can lead to a definitive solution to the situation of Palestine," Hollande insisted.

This is Netanyahu's first visit to the country since Hollande came to power in May.

The trip will culminate with a visit on Thursday to the Jewish school in the south-western city of Toulouse, where Mohamed Merah, a local man claiming links to Al-Qaida, gunned down a rabbi and three children in March.

Netanyahu and Hollande will take part in a ceremony to commemorate the four victims, who were among seven people killed by Merah. The 23-year-old juvenile delinquent-turned-terrorist, who was killed by police in a raid, also killed three soldiers of North African and Caribbean origin.

While Merah's victims had mixed origins, the Jewish community in France fears that Jews are the main target of a new generation of homegrown Islamist radicals. Earlier this month, police dismantled a cell suspected of carrying out a grenade attack on a kosher store near Paris and of planning further attacks.