News, March 2008
Sarkozy's warm embrace of Peres signals his religious affiliation and a new era in French-Israeli ties
Sarkozy's warm embrace of Peres signals new era in French-Israeli ties
www.chinaview.cn 2008-03-12 19:18:02
BEIJING, March 12 (Xinhua) --
Visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres has received a warm welcome from his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, which apparently shows Sarkozy's effort to improve the French-Israeli relationship to surpass the often turbulent ties during the tenure of his predecessor Jacques Chirac.
Peres, on a five-day visit to France starting from Monday, is the first head of state Sarkozy has hosted since his election in May 2007, which itself is a message of France's support at a time of renewed Middle East tensions.
"France will always be at Israel's side when its existence is thrown into question," Sarkozy said Monday evening at a dinner in Peres' honor at the French presidential palace the Elysee.
"Those who scandalously call for the destruction of Israel will always find France standing in their way," he said.
Sarkzoy repeatedly described himself as "a friend of Israel," and Peres had, a few days before the start of his historic visit, declared that the current state of French-Israeli relations "could not be better."
Peres, a former Israeli prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, called France "a true friend of the Jewish people, since the Holocaust, and an honest and true friend of the state of Israel since its creation."
This move is seen by analysts as a symbol of Sarkozy's efforts to improve the often-turbulent ties during Chirac's tenure and to build closer relations with Israel.
Though Sarkozy lost no opportunity to show his warmth to Peres, he reacted coldly to Israel's recent announcement that it was stepping up settlement in the West Bank and in disputed east Jerusalem.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was reported to have approved an Israeli Housing Ministry's request to build 750 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze'ev.
This aroused a chorus of world criticism and warnings that it could block the faltering peace talks.
"Any settlement expansion is contrary to Israel's obligations under the Road Map and to international law," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern in a statement on Monday.
The Bush administration also said the plan does not help the progress of U.S.-backed peace talks.
"As a friend, I say to you that Israel's security depends on stopping the settlements," Sarkozy told Peres.
"Israel's best security guarantee was the creation of a modern, democratic and viable Palestine state before the end of 2008," according to French president's spokesman David Martinon.
France is home to about 600,000 Jews, the largest community in western Europe (Sarkozy's mother is Jewish). The country is also home to the region's largest Muslim population of over 5 million.
During his visit, Peres, on the occasion of his country's 60th anniversary since creation, will also officially inaugurate the 2008 edition of the world renowned Paris Book Fair on Thursday ahead of its public opening on Friday.
The event has attracted a lot of great controversy with many Arab and Muslim countries as well as writers and publishers vowing to boycott it to protest against the fact that Israel has been designated as this year's guest of honor.
Meanwhile, at the Champs-Elysees, Israeli flags were lined with the street, a symbol of France gushing welcome to the Israeli president.
As what Martinon has said, Sarkozy "conferred this honor to his Israeli counterpart to reaffirm the strength of the friendship between our two countries and people."
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