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Hollande pledge on nuclear talks

French president Francois Hollande promised on Sunday to take a hard line towards Iran in upcoming nuclear talks this week as he began a three-day visit to Israel.

Mr Hollande's message was sure to be welcomed by his Israeli hosts, who have voiced concerns that an emerging deal with global powers gives Iran too much without getting enough in return.

"France will not make concessions on nuclear proliferation," Mr Hollande said at a welcome ceremony at Israel's international airport. "France will maintain all its measures and sanctions until we are certain that Iran has renounced nuclear weapons."

Iran's suspect nuclear programme will be high on the agenda of Mr Hollande's visit. France is a member of the six global powers conducting negotiations with Iran.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been outspoken in his opposition to a potential deal in which the international community would ease some sanctions on Iran in exchange for some curbs on Iran's nuclear programme. The countries fear that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, a charge Iran denies.

Mr Netanyahu's strong objections have raised tensions with the US, which said his concerns are premature. US officials, seeking to calm concerns in Israel and among its allies in Congress, say Iran will get only minor relief from the painful sanctions under the international proposal.

Mr Hollande, accompanied by his girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler, was welcomed by an honour guard at Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

"Israel sees in France a true friend," Mr Netanyahu said at the ceremony, thanking Mr Hollande for his positions on Iran.

"Iran must not be armed with nuclear weapons," Mr Netanyahu said. "This wouldn't just endanger Israel and the countries in the Middle East, but it would also endanger France, Europe and the entire world."

Speaking in Hebrew, Mr Hollande said: "I will always remain a friend of Israel."

Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its very existence, citing Iran's repeated calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, Tehran's long-range missile programme and its support for violent anti-Israel groups like the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly called the potential agreement between the six powers - the US, Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany - and Iran a "bad deal".

He says international pressure should be increased, not eased, to pressure Iran into dismantling what he says is a military nuclear programme.

AP

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