Netanyahu Arrives in France, With Nuclear Iran High on Agenda

Netanyahu, in an interview with Paris Match magazine Tuesday, defended the merits of a strike against Iran; two day visit to include commemorative visit to Toulouse.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a two-day trip to France Wednesday, with talks on Iran's nuclear program and anti-Semitic attacks in France to dominate the visit.

This is Netanyahu's first visit to the country since President Francois Hollande came to power in May. The Israeli leader will hold talks Wednesday with Hollande, as well as with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

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.

Apart from terrorism, Netanyahu and Hollande will also be discussing the Iranian nuclear program and the crisis in Syria, according to French officials.

France has been at the forefront of Europe's drive for tough sanctions against Iran but has also repeatedly warned Israel against a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, warning an attack could have the effect of uniting Iranians behind the regime.

Netanyahu, in an interview with Paris Match magazine Tuesday, defended the merits of a strike.

"Five minutes after [the strike], contrary to what the skeptics say, I think a feeling of relief would spread across the region," he said.

Meanwhile, the French foreign ministry says France will also stress to Netanyahu "the need to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process."

Netanyahu's visit coincides with the first anniversary of the Paris-based UN cultural agency UNESCO admitting Palestine as a member state.

France voted in favor of the Palestinians being given membership - a move that vexed Israel.

Hollande, while campaigning for president, also promised to support international recognition for a Palestinian state.

However, he has yet to say whether France would support Palestine being given non-member state status at the United Nations, where a vote is expected in the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 27, 2012.Credit: AP



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