PARIS (Feb. 22)
President Francois Mitterrand and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir remained firmly grounded in their respective, widely divergent positions on Middle East peace, following a two-and-a-half-hour meeting at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, the atmosphere between them was described as “very friendly.”
Mitterrand told Shamir as he left, “You gave me much food for thought.” But a senior spokesman was quick to point out that it did not mean the French president has altered his views on the Middle East.
“France cannot avoid taking into consideration the latest developments, but will do nothing which could hurt Israel’s interests,” the spokesman said.
He was referring to changes in the position of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Israel insists no changes have taken place.
That was a major point of disagreement between Mitterrand and Shamir.
FORCE CAN’T END UPRISING
The Israeli leader, who arrived Tuesday on a three-day “working visit,” told reporters that he and Mitterrand had explained their respective views, each taking into consideration what the other had to say.
Mitterrand told Shamir that the PLO recognized Israel at the November 1988 meeting of the Palestine National Council in Algiers. He asked Israel to reciprocate and take a realistic approach.
The French president also stressed at several points in their conversation that “it is an illusion to think that force can put down the Palestinian uprising in the territories.”
He said only a political settlement would end the intifada.
Shamir elucidated on Israel’s refusal to have any contact, direct or otherwise, with the PLO. “The PLO has not changed either its terror tactics or its basic aim — Israel’s destruction,” he insisted.
To Mitterrand’s argument that even the United States has opened a dialogue with the PLO, Shamir retorted, “America has made a serious mistake, and we hope it will correct its stand.”
CONTACTS WITH PLO UNHELPFUL
At no point did the Israeli leader ask Mitterrand directly to cancel his projected meeting with PLO leader Yasir Arafat. But he argued vigorously that any European contacts with the PLO were counterproductive.
Mitterrand said no final decision has been made to meet Arafat.
Shamir came here under no illusions that he could alter Mitterrand’s basic outlook. But he hoped to slow down Western Europe’s increasing contacts with the PLO.
He may have made some small progress in that direction, as evidenced by Mitterrand’s “food for thought” remark.
French officials believe, however, that the president will, in fact, meet with Arafat in the spring, either in Tunis or Cairo, and will continue to work for an international peace conference, which Shamir still adamantly opposes.
The Israeli prime minister also met Wednesday with Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, Premier Michel Rocard and Laurent Fabius, president of the National Assembly.
Shamir placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
He was to attend a banquet in his honor hosted by Rocard Wednesday night and will be the guest of Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac at City Hall on Thursday. Shamir returns to Israel on Friday.