'Dawn of a new era' in Franco-Israeli relations

29th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 29 (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left Paris Friday at the end of a three-day visit to France which officials from both countries said confirmed a new spirit of friendship after years of mutual mistrust.

PARIS, July 29 (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left Paris Friday at the end of a three-day visit to France which officials from both countries said confirmed a new spirit of friendship after years of mutual mistrust.

Speaking on French radio just before boarding the plane for Tel Aviv, Sharon, 77, said it was the "dawn of a new era" in Franco-Israeli relations.

"France has a central role in everything that happens in the Middle East, in Lebanon, in Syria and Iran," the prime minister said.

"There is no point looking for a fly in the ointment. There isn't one," a Sharon aide told AFP. "The whole trip has been extraordinary. Our differences are almost non-existent."

During his stay Sharon saw President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy. He also had talks with European and French Jewish leaders.

The change of tone was dramatic after a long period in which the two countries were barely on speaking terms because of allegations of pro-Arab bias in French foreign policy and a surge in attacks on Jewish targets in France.

Sharon called Chirac "one of the world's great leaders" while the president described Sharon as "courageous" for his planned pull-out from the Gaza Strip next month.

Officials said a convergence of views was established on a series of subjects, including the fight against terrorism, the need to check Iran's nuclear programme, the assertion of Lebanese independence and a firm line against anti-Semitism.

In his talks with French Jewish leaders, Sharon called for more emigration to Israel -- but he made clear this was a standard appeal made to all Jewish communities in the world and had no link with a supposed climate of anti-Semitism in France.

A year ago the prime minister angered French leaders when he appeared to suggest that life had become too dangerous for the country's 600,000 Jews.

The visit saw agreement on a new Franco-Israeli Foundation to encourage cultural and academic ties between the two countries, and Sharon also invited Chirac to visit him at his farm in the Negev desert. The prime minister said he felt at home in the Elysee palace when Chirac "began talking about farming."

However aides warned that the new relationship would need work, and that the honeymoon would not necessarily endure if there was a surge in tensions in the Middle East.

Differences which were skirted over during the visit include Israel's security barrier which cuts into parts of the West Bank; the maintenance of Israeli settlements there; and the assassination of Palestinian militant leaders.

"If the Gaza withdrawal plan goes badly, if there are new outbreaks of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, if dialogue breaks down -- then international support, including France's, will begin to dissipate," said an Israeli official.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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