French President Offers Funds to Help Rebuild Middle East

French President Francois Mitterrand arrived in Israel for a state visit offering his country’s economic cooperation in building a peaceful Middle East.

“Israel is one of the places where world history is still being made. I am honored to be here,” he said upon his arrival Wednesday for a three-day visit.

It was his second trip to Israel during his presidential term. Ten years ago, he broke an unwritten taboo by becoming the first serving French leader to tour the Jewish state.

He was welcomed at Ben-Gurion Airport by President Chaim Herzog, who told him, “We all know your personal ties to our country. The people of Israel welcome you as a friend.”

Mitterrand was soon closeted alone with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at his Jerusalem hotel in a first working session.

In the evening, the Herzogs held a state dinner at the president’s residence for Mitterrand, his wife Danielle and a large delegation of ministers and aides accompanying him.

He is considered a close personal friend of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a fellow member of the Socialist International with whom he was to meet Thursday.

Peres told reporters that France is already playing a helpful role in designing an economic future for a peaceful Middle East. He specified that France would help with transportation, communications and banking.

France hosted multilateral talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors on regional economic development last month.

Israeli officials briefing reporters stressed the economic aspect of the visit, with Israel anxious to secure French support for closer ties with the European Community.

Mitterrand was also slated to meet Thursday with Palestinian leaders at the French Consulate.

And he was to tour the recently inaugurated Valley of the Destroyed Communities at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

Israeli officials briefing reporters stressed the economic aspect of the visit, with Israel anxious to secure French support for its bid for closer ties with the European Community.

From Israel, Mitterrand goes on to Jordan, where he will confer with King Hussein.

On Wednesday, France officially denied reports that the president plans to meet, while in Amman, with Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

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