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Israeli PM to Discuss Middle East Peace Process, Iran with French President

By Lisa Bryant
22 October 2007

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is in the French capital, Paris Monday, the first stop of a European tour. He is expected to hold talks on the Middle East peace process and Iran with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his prime minister. Lisa Bryant has more from the French capital.

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is visiting France at a time of relatively improved relations between the two countries. Relations were strained under former French president Jacques Chirac, who was considered by the Israelis as too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. A rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France did not help matters.

But analyst Mark Hecker, a specialist in French-Israeli relations at the French Institute for International Affairs in Paris, notes things have changed.

Hecker says bilateral relations actually warmed at the end of Chirac's presidency. Nonetheless, he considers Mr. Sarkozy -- who has made a point of declaring himself a friend of Israel -- probably the most pro-Israeli French leader in decades.

Israeli and Jewish opinion is also very pro-Sarkozy. French Jews living in Israel voted in large numbers for Sarkozy during the presidential elections earlier this year. But Hecker believes the French leader will still try to maintain a balanced approach toward the Palestinians.

Among other things, the French and Israeli leaders are expected to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the current standoff regarding Iran's nuclear program over a working lunch.

Mr. Sarkozy has also adopted a harder line on Tehran compared to Mr. Chirac -- and may well be receptive to any calls Mr. Olmert makes for tougher sanctions against Iran.

Besides talks with Mr. Sarkozy and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, Mr. Olmert is to meet with France's Jewish community, the largest in Western Europe. On Tuesday, he travels to Britain for meetings with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who will also be there.

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