Nicolas Sarkozy with wife Carla Bruni. Preparing for visit
France will do everything in order to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, French President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed in an interview with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth ahead of his upcoming visit to the Jewish state, scheduled to begin Sunday.
"Those who outrageously call for Israel's destruction will be confronted by France and will be blocked," he added.
Sarkozy called for fresh sanctions on Tehran if the Islamic republic continues its efforts to develop nuclear weapons, but did not spare his criticism of Israel.
Invitation relayed to Jerusalem ahead of French president's scheduled visit to Israel on June 22; Israeli PM expresses willingness to attend, Syrian leader yet to respond
"You must freeze the constructions in the settlements in the territories, which are the main obstacle towards peace with the Palestinians," he said. "The steps taken to ease the movement of goods and people in the West Bank are positive, but this is not enough."
Last October, the French president was quoted as saying that "the establishment of the State of Israel is the most important event which took place in the 20th century."
This time, he refrained from repeating this statement, which sparked a lot of criticism in Arab countries. He prefers softer remarks, which still make a special place for Israel within his outlook.
Sarkozy is expected to reiterate his commitment for Israel in his Knesset speech Monday, but as opposed to US President George W. Bush, he will not declare that "Masada will not fall again."
He will make certain to maintain the balance between his commitment for Israel's security and the need for Israelis to meet the commitments they took to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians.
Even Sarkozy's closest friends admit that it is impossible to tell when he will "explode". The sixth president of the Fifth Republic of France is known to be short-tempered and highly impulsive and to express himself in an undiplomatic manner. This may be the reason why his advisors insisted on a written interview.
The questions were delivered in advance, and the president's answers are believed to have been strictly examined by the officials responsible for France's foreign policy in the Middle East and worded in a way that would also please the Arab side.
Sarkozy refused to answer personal questions, despite being asked about his family origins, about his Jewish grandfather who converted to Christianity and about his influence in terms of the president's attitude towards Israel. He also refused to talk about his new wife Carla Bruni, who will accompany him on his visit and plans to bathe in the Dead Sea.
"The relations between France and Israel have seen a real, renewed bloom over the past few months," Sarkozy said in the interview. "I have always stated that I am Israel's friend, and as president I believe it is extremely important to tighten the relations between the countries in all areas. But I don’t forget that this blooming continues a long tradition of friendship, the roots of which are embedded in our joint history.
"Even if there have been a few misunderstandings or differences of opinion, it is a fact that since the establishment of the State of Israel, France has worked to strengthen it and guarantee its existence, inter alia, by taking part in building its defense. Israel's existence is not subject to discussion, and its security is not subject to negotiations."
What should the international community do in order to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons?
"As far as France is concerned, the issue is clear: A nuclear Iran is unacceptable and we are determined to prevent this. The method is aspiring to reach a solution out of a dialogue, using an approach combining a dialogue and inflexibility.
"The new offer conveyed to Iran, which includes concrete elements in the fields of civil nuclear energy, policy and economy, demonstrates to the Iranian people what they could achieve through cooperation and what they may lose if the confrontation strategy chosen by their rulers continues.
"As long as Iran fails to accept this offer and to suspend its sensitive activities, we will have no choice but to increase the pressure exerted on it. Iran today must make a strategic choice between cooperation, which is the only possibility which will open a road to stability and prosperity rather than growing isolation. The choice is in its hands."
There are signs that France is changing its tough stance against Bashar Assad. What is your stance regarding the Syrian president?
"France is no less harsh than it was in the past in terms of its attitude towards Syria. All we did was respond to concrete gestures made by the Syrian government, which made it possible to make decisive progress on the Lebanese issue.
"In my speech in Cairo last December I said clearly that I would resume the talks with him only when positive and concrete developments take place in Lebanon. Such developments have indeed taken place, one of them being the election of President Suleiman. This is why I telephoned him to express my satisfaction and call on him to continue in this direction.
"I also told him that the talks with Israel were moving in the right direction and were fully supported by France. In addition, I invited him to attend the summit launching a new Mediterranean Union on July 13 and made it clear to him that all the heads of states and governments in the Mediterranean have been invited, including Israel.
"My expectations from Assad are similar to the expectations of the entire international community: To continue the new road he appears to have chosen recently and to prove that he wishes to turn Syria into a center of stability and peace in the region."
How do you view an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians?
"Everyone knows that any durable solution involves the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state. France encourages both sides to firmly continue the negotiations and move forward towards a permanent agreement before the end of 2008.
"Security is naturally the key. The firing of rockets on Israel's civil population cannot be accepted, and Israel has the right to defend itself against terror. By doing this, however, it must make certain to use proportional force.
"Hamas knows that no dialogue will be possible unless it fulfills the three principles set by the Quartet: Recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and honoring past agreements. It also knows that if it wishes to normalize its relations with the international community, it must immediately stop firing and release Israeli-French soldier Gilad Shalit.
"Shalit's release is a top priority, and it will only be obtained through mediation. These talks are naturally sensitive, and the most important thing is not to work in a way that will endanger the kidnapped soldier, who is also a French citizen."
Is there a message you would like to convey to the Israelis ahead of your visit?
"First of all, on the year Israel marks its 60th anniversary, I extend my heartfelt wishes to the people of Israel for peace and security. I turn to you as I turn to a friend and encourage you to overcome your fears and move forward in the diplomatic process with your Arab neighbors in order to reach just and durable peace in the region.
"This will naturally entail historic and painful concessions. I would also like to express my support and confidence in the Jewish people and say that France will always stand by Israel whenever its security or right to exist are undermined."