French President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to persuade the United States to convene an international peace process, with the goal of jump-starting both Israeli-Palestinian and regional talks, Haaretz reported
An Israeli government source said that Sarkozy is expected to seek Israeli support for this idea when he meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris tomorrow.
Netanyahu will leave today for a two-day visit to Paris and Rome. While in Paris, he will also meet U.S. envoy George Mitchell to try to finalize understandings with Washington on settlement construction.
Sarkozy has been pushing the international conference idea in both Washington and European capitals ever since Netanyahu took office. According to the Israeli source, Sarkozy believes that only an international conference could sway Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from his current refusal to meet Netanyahu and resume negotiations.
The U.S., however, is not enthusiastic, saying it prefers to see progress on the ground - especially in freezing settlements - before convening such a meeting. Russia is also opposed, fearing this would undermine the international conference on Middle East peace it had planned to hold in Moscow later this year. Sarkozy believes an Israeli green light would at least soften Washington's opposition, if not Russia's.
In Rome, where Netanyahu will meet Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi today, the main item on the Israeli premier's agenda will be Italy's relations with Tehran, in light of Iran's nuclear program and the ongoing unrest over its presidential election. Netanyahu will ask Berlusconi to curtail Italian-Iranian trade, since Italy is now Iran's leading European trading partner. He will also urge Foreign Minister Franco Frattini to refrain from visiting Tehran.
This evening, parliament speaker Gianfranco Fini will host a dinner in Netanyahu's honor, and tomorrow morning, Netanyahu will meet with President Giorgio Napolitano before heading off to Paris.
In France, the main topics of conversation are expected to be Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Sarkozy is expected to press Netanyahu to freeze settlement construction and urge the resumption of talks with Syria.
Netanyahu, for his part, will ask Sarkozy, Berlusconi and Mitchell to press Abbas to meet with him and resume negotiations.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is also engaging in a media blitz - though so far, it has been aimed solely at international rather than domestic public opinion. Since unveiling his ideas on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a major speech at Bar-Ilan University last Sunday, he has granted three interviews to American television stations (two to NBC and one to CBS) and one to the German newspaper Bild, but none to any Israeli media outlet.
His aides said the interviews are meant to follow up on his Bar-Ilan speech and ensure that his messages were properly understood, especially by the American public.
"The prime minister is the State of Israel's explainer-in-chief, and he wants the world to get more exposure to the messages of his speech," said one.
Moreover, the aide said, the interviews were requested by media outlets and/or journalists known to be sympathetic to Israel, "so we didn't want to disappoint them."