PARIS (Feb. 20)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel is assured of an exceptionally warm welcome when he arrives here Tuesday on a three-day visit at the personal invitation of President Francois Mitterrand.
He can also expect some very frank talk from the French chief of state. These two aspects of his trip are not unrelated.
Shamir will be greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Michel Rocard. The following day he will place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Are de Triomphe.
In a country as conscious of protocol as France, both ceremonies are exceptional courtesies for a prime minister here on a “working visit.” And they will be conferred at the express in struction of Mitterrand.
Diplomatic observers point out that this cordiality was not warranted by the personal relationship between Mitterrand, a Socialist, and Shamir, who heads Israel’s right-wing Likud bloc. Nor are their respective governments that close.
But France wants to demonstrate, in no uncertain terms, a high regard for Shamir and friendship for Israel, so that it can speak more bluntly to its guest.
France is at odds with Israel over the concept of an international conference to resolve the Israeli-Arab dispute and over the Palestine Liberation Organization’s role in the Middle East peace process.
France will assume the rotating chairmanship of the European Community’s Council of Ministers this summer. It is now held by Spain.
NO NEW ISRAELI PLAN YET
Mitterrand is said to be preparing what diplomatic sources describe as a major peace offensive in the Middle East during France’s six-month tenure.
He will try to convince Shamir that the steps he has in mind are not anti-Israel but, on the contrary, in Israel’s interests.
French sources stress that Mitterrand remains Israel’s longtime friend. Whatever he says when he and Shamir meet Wednesday for a working lunch at the Elysee Palace is to Israel’s ultimate advantage, the French president is said to be convinced.
France wants to play a major role in the Middle East peace process. It is increasingly worried about what it feels to be the tendency of the United States and the Soviet Union to settle matters there between themselves in consultation with their respective client states.
Israeli diplomats say Shamir does not intend to unveil Israel’s peace plan while in Paris.
His visit, nevertheless, creates a momentum that could lead to similar trips by the Israeli leader to London, Madrid and other Western European capitals in the weeks ahead.
In addition to lunching with Mitterrand, Shamir will be guest of honor at a banquet to be given by Rocard. He is to meet with the presidents of the French National Assembly and the Senate, and with several Cabinet ministers.