Israel’s Lapid meets Macron in Paris on his first trip as prime minister

PARIS –

Israeli interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid used his first foreign trip since taking office on Tuesday to urge world powers to increase pressure on Iran over its nuclear activities, calling the Islamic republic a threat to regional stability. .

Lapid met in Paris on Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has called on Lapid to revive peace talks with the Palestinians and said the Israelis are “lucky” to have him in charge.

Lapid, who took office on Friday, focused on Israel’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the stalled global deal aimed at curbing them. Israel accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies, and says the tattered nuclear deal does not include sufficient guarantees to stop Iran’s progress toward building a bomb.

“The current situation cannot continue as it is. It will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which would threaten world peace. We must all work together to prevent that from happening,” Lapid told reporters.

He and Macron, both centrists, called each other friends but disagreed on the Iran nuclear deal.

The 2015 deal offered Iran relief from economic sanctions in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump, with strong Israeli backing, withdrew from the deal, causing it to unravel. Since then, Iran has stepped up key nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment, far beyond the contours of the original agreement.

Macron called for a return to the 2015 agreement, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but acknowledged that “it will not be enough.” France helped broker the deal and is one of the parties to talks aimed at trying to revive it. Israel says that if the deal is reinstated, it should include tighter restrictions and address Iran’s non-nuclear military activities throughout the region.

Lapid called the JCPOA a “dangerous deal,” saying it’s not tough or far-reaching enough.

He said that Israel and France “may have disagreements on what the content of the agreement should be, but we do not disagree on the facts: Iran continues to violate the agreement and develop its program, enriching uranium beyond the permitted level and removing chambers from nuclear sites. “.

He leads the centrist Yesh Atid party and was one of the architects of the historic alliance of eight diverse factions that found common ground in opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu, the first ruling coalition to include an Arab party.

Lapid will remain in office until the November election and perhaps beyond if no clear winner emerges. Making his first trip abroad as prime minister, Lapid may try to use the meeting with Macron to bolster his credentials as a statesman and alternative to Netanyahu with the Israeli electorate.

Macron used their meeting to urge Israel to strive for a long-term peace with the Palestinians.

“There is no alternative to a return to political dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said, to revive “a process that has been interrupted for too long.”

Lapid did not address Macron’s appeal in his public comments. Lapid, unlike Netanyahu, supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians. But as interim leader, he is in no position to undertake any major diplomatic initiatives.

He and Macron were also expected to speak on Lebanon, days after Israel said it shot down three drones launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah headed for an area where Israel recently set up an offshore gas platform. Hezbollah, which waged a month-long war against Israel in 2006, has confirmed sending unarmed drones on a reconnaissance mission.

Israel and Lebanon have no formal diplomatic relations but have engaged in indirect talks brokered by the United States to delineate their maritime border. France is a key supporter of Lebanon, a former French protectorate, and Macron has tried unsuccessfully to broker a solution to Lebanon’s political crisis.

“Hezbollah has more than 100,000 rockets in Lebanon, aimed at Israel. It tries to attack us with Iranian rockets and UAVs,” Lapid said, referring to the UAVs. “Israel will not sit idly by, given these repeated attacks.”

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