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May 30, 2017

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Netanyahu visits France to discuss Iran with Hollande

PARIS--Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to hold talks Wednesday with President Francois Hollande on the Iranian nuclear program.

The two-day trip is Netanyahu's "first opportunity to talk with President Hollande, and he hopes to build a good working relationship with the French leader," a source close to the Israeli leader told AFP.

Since taking office five months ago, Hollande has only spoken to Netanyahu by telephone but met Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas twice — both times in Paris.

Their talks were expected to focus on the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program, Israeli officials said.

Netanyahu has warned that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state and has repeatedly refused to rule out military action, fuelling speculation that an attack is imminent.

"France is a very important country in the Western alliance which is dealing with the Iranian bomb," a senior Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Netanyahu clearly wants to talk about the Iranian issue with Francois Hollande especially after his speech at the U.N. at the end of September," he said.

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly, he wielded a bomb diagram on which he drew a red line to underline his pleas to Washington to set firm limits on how far Tehran can go with its nuclear program before encountering a pre-emptive military strike.

With the rumor mill working overtime, Hollande spoke by phone with Netanyahu in mid-September, urging him to seek a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the Iran standoff.

He also stressed France's determination that Iran should suspend its nuclear program and respect U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding a suspension of uranium enrichment, officials said.

Two weeks later, in his U.N. address, Netanyahu appeared to pull back from the brink, pushing back the deadline until spring or even summer 2013, ostensibly to allow time for international sanctions to work.

Iran denies Israeli and Western suspicions that its nuclear program is a front for a drive for a weapons capability.

Netanyahu is due to have a working lunch with Hollande on Wednesday and then meet Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

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