PARIS (Aug. 18)
President Francois Mitterrand last night rejected charges by Premier Menachem Begin of Israel that France was an anti-Semitic country and blamed the outbreak of terrorism in the country on the fact that France was playing a leading role in efforts to bring Israeli-Arab peace.
The President also announced a series of measures to root out terrorism in a television appearance designed to explain France’s role in the Middle East conflict and to calm the fears of the nation, especially the Jews, over the recent wave of terrorism.
In the last five months, 21 terrorist attacks have killed 15 people and injured more than 100. Although most of the attacks have been against Jewish targets, other groups, including Armenians and Basques, have also been victims of terrorism. The most serious of these incidents took place last week when a terrorist squad attacked Jo Goldenberg’s restaurant in the Jewish quarter of Paris and killed six people and wounded 22.
Mitterrand last night contended that the terrorism in Paris “is part of an act of war by certain Middle East countries” that are seeking “to punish France for its pacifist role” and to prevent France “from the very great role it has to play in the world.” He attributed the recent series of terrorist attacks to “imported terrorism which is designed, commanded and carried out by foreign groups.” He did not identify the groups.
DEFENDS FRANCE’S MIDEAST POLICY
Defending his Middle East policy, Mitterrand said France will continue to seek security for Israel and a state for the Palestinians. But he refrained from saying that the PLO is the “sole representative” of the Palestinian people. In his meeting earlier in the day with the leader of Israel’s Labor Party, Shimon Peres, the President called for the “participation” of the PLO in the Mideast peace process as “one element, among others.”
Mitterrand in his TV address, said that France’s effort to help evacuate the PLO forces from Beirut to ensure a peaceful end to the fighting in that city stemmed from a desire to play an even-handed role in the Mideast. He pointed out that he supported the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt, that he had opposed commercial boycotts of Israel and that he believed the PLO had to give up its “obsession with destruction” and formally recognize Israel.
NEITHER ANTI-ARAB NOR ANTI-ISRAEL
Recalling that he became the first European leader to address Israel’s Knesset last March, the President said that he had put all his “cards on the table” at that time. “My conduct is that of a friend of Israel,” he said, “but only as far as I recognize that it has to intervene in the affairs of the Middle East.”
He added that France’s Mideast policy “has never been and will never be anti-Israeli.” However, he declared. “The Israeli policy of France should not be anti-Arab, and the Arab policy of France should not be anti-Israeli.”
Asserting that France would maintain its “presence and balance” in the Mideast, Mitterrand declared: ” I shall not give it up under threats and obviously I intend to organize the country in such a way that this terrorism (in France) is at last punished.”
He warned that his Administration would crack down on terrorism. “Any organization claiming, inclined toward and practicing a recourse to violence will be pursued and dissolved, Mitterrand said.
Among measures designed to mobilize a national effort against terrorism, Mitterrand announced the creation of a post of Secretary of State for Public Security. He said that Commander Christian Prouteau, head of the elite Gendarmerie Intervention Brigade, would coordinate the efforts to combat terrorism. Joseph Franceschi, a junior minister, will be the Secretary of State, coordinating the work of France’s numerous police departments with intelligence services. One of the criticisms of France’s anti-terrorist efforts in the past, as well as under the present Socialist Administration, has been of the diversity of services involved and the lack of coordination between the police, the paramilitary gendarmerie and the intelligence service.
Other measures Mitterrand mentioned to combat terrorism include the establishment of a centralized anti-terrorist data bank, tighter frontier controls, a ban on the sale of certain weapons, and closer cooperation with other European police organizations. The Cabinet today formally approved the anti-terrorist measures.
REJECTS BEGIN’S CRITICISM
Regarding Begin’s criticism last week that Mitterrand and other Administration officials created the atmosphere for anti-Semitism in France, the President said Begin “does not perceive very well French contemporary realities.” He said that “it is not healthy, not just to accuse France” of being in the business of aiding and perpetuating anti-Semitism.
Instead, Mitterrand suggested that Begin would spend his time better if he worked for peace in the Mideast. “Mr. Begin runs Israel’s affairs. I run French affairs. We should rather try and work together for peace in the Middle East, since peace there would put an end to international terrorism,” Mitterrand declared.
Mitterrand also rejected a suggestion by Begin that if French authorities cannot defend its, Jewish citizens, the Jewish youth of France might have to defend the Jewish people. “I know that our brothers, Jews in France, have confidence in the laws of their country without needing other protection.”
Mitterrand’s television appearance was the second since he took office 15 months ago and the first in response to a critical situation. His address was seen as a tightrope balancing act in which he tried to placate all sides on France’s Middle East policy and preserve France’s diplomatic maneuverability.
His appearance was also an indication of Mitterrand’s increasing domestic difficulties over his policy of nationalization and the relatively high rate of unemployment. The general reaction to his measures to combat terrorism was one of wait and see.
Today, however, the Mitterrand government took the first step to implement the crack-down on terrorism by ordering the dissolution of Direct Action (Action Directe), an extremist group, that has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks against French Jews and Israelis and Jewish and Israeli-owned installations and firms.
Presidential spokesman Jacques Attali said Direct Action was being banned under a 1936 law prohibiting private militias. The Direct Action group, which police estimate has about 100 members, is said to have links with the PLO, the Red Army Faction in West Germany and the Red Brigade in Italy.
The main significance of the dissolution order is that membership or any activity connected with the group will be considered an offense, making it easier for police to apprehend suspected members.
Meanwhile, police in Paris launched a major, manhunt for the leader of Direct Action after he told a newspaper that the group had carried out a number of anti-Semitic attacks, in the city. The leader was identified as Jean-Marc Rouillan. His statement to the newspaper was the first time an identified member of Direct Action discussed the attacks. But police are still unable to trace those who were responsible for the terrorist attack last week in the heart of Paris’ Jewish quarter.