PARIS (AFP-EJP)--- French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday said he wanted "concrete acts" from Iran to prove it was not pursuing nuclear arms, after his first direct meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Addressing a joint press conference with Netanyahu, whose aim during the two-day visit is to press for more pressure on Tehran, Hollande warned that Paris would back "other sanctions" if Tehran failed to convince on its contested nuclear programme.
"This is a threat which cannot be accepted by France," Hollande said.
"We have voted for many sanctions and are ready to vote others as long as necessary," the French leader said, underscoring that he wanted "proof that Iran has abandoned this drive."
Israel and Western nations say Iran’s nuclear programme is a front for a drive for a weapons capability.
Netanyahu hailed the "extremely important position" taken by Hollande.
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 was imminent.
But he then appeared to pull back, pushing the deadline until spring or even summer 2013, ostensibly to allow time for international sanctions to work.
The Israeli leader said in an interview Wednesday that the Arab world would be relieved if Israel struck at Iranian nuclear facilities.
"A military strike on Iran and neutralizing its nuclear threat would benefit the Arab states in the Middle East and ease tension throughout the region," Netanyahu told French weekly magazine Paris Match.
He said in case of an attack, "five minutes later, contrary to what sceptics think, I believe there will be a great feeling of relief throughout the region."
"Iran is not popular in the Arab world, far from it," he said in comments reported in French in France's Paris Match weekly.
"And some neighbouring regimes and their citizens have well understood that a nuclear-armed Iran is a danger for them, not only for Israel," he said, without mentioning specific nations.
Asked in the Paris Match interview whether he was concerned that the terrorist responsible for the murders in Toulouse explained his act by saying that “the Jews have our brothers and sisters in Palestine,” the prime minister responded that “nothing can justify the massacre of children. This is pure barbarism.”
“Any attempt to explain, justify or excuse such behavior is absurd,” Netanyahu said. “All civilized people must unite in the battle against terrorism and start by unanimously condemning it. I am going to Toulouse to demonstrate my solidarity with the victims of terror, Jewish and non- Jewish, and call for action against terrorism and those countries that support it.”
“I think we must do more together to fight terrorism,” he said. “One mustn’t reduce this to a matter of religion. This is a fight between moderates that want modernity and others, radicals, who by force would like to force values on us and take us back to past times that were more unhappy.”
Netanyahu underlined in the interview what is already becoming a theme in his re- election campaign, that although he is perceived as a “hawk,” Israel has not gone to war once during the seven years over two terms that he has served in office.
“Your enemies keep away when they know that you won’t hesitate one minute to defend yourself,” he told the magazine. “That is how I have been able to preserve the peace so far. I hope that I will one day have the opportunity to seal the peace.”
Hollande meanwhile urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks without any conditions, while criticising continued Israeli occupation.
"Only negotiations can lead to a definitive solution, to the creation of a Palestinian state," the French President said, taking its distances with the Palestinian bid of recognition of a non-member Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly.
He said the two countries had "divergences on occupation, which we want to see halted."
Netanyahu is hoping during the two-day trip "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.
Netanyahu enjoyed close ties with Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy who cast himself as a "friend of Israel" but there was a chill after Sarkozy reportedly called him a "liar" in November last year during a private conversation with US President Barack Obama.
Netanyahu was due to meet Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius later in the day.
On Thursday, Netanyahu is to travel to Toulouse with Hollande to attend amemorial ceremony for three Jewish children and a teacher at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school who were shot dead by an Islamist gunman who also killed soldiers of North African origin.
The Israeli Prime Minister also evoked rising anti-Semitism, which he said was a "threat for all the European people."