Sarkozy to Netanyahu: Advance peace process

PARIS (JTA) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Israel’s prime minister to advance the peace process.

In a telephone call on Sunday between Sarkozy and Benjamin Netanyahu, Sarkozy said he “underlined the urgency of a vigorous reopening of the peace process.” The conversation took place the night before Netanyahu was scheduled to leave on a visit to Europe, with his first stop in London to meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He is scheduled to meet U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday and with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday.

The French and Israeli presidents have maintained a personal friendship despite differences of political opinion. Along with the United States and several European countries, France has called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity.

In Berlin, in addition to discussing the threat of a nuclear Iran, Netanyahu and Merkel are likely to tackle the issue of Israeli settlements, whose expansion Merkel opposes, as well as German efforts to help obtain the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, abducted by Hamas in 2006. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak confirmed in an Aug. 17 interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose that Germany is involved in efforts to free Shalit.

The swine flu may also be on the table: Netanyahu is reportedly planning to ask Britain and Germany for help in obtaining 500,000 to 1 million doses of the vaccine. Germany, Britain and the United States were the first to order the vaccine and are expected to be the first to receive it; they may then distribute it, according to an Aug. 10 report in Israel’s daily Ma’ariv.

Netanyahu also reportedly is to receive an unusual gift from the German newspaper Bild: a set of original architectural drawings of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, which the paper obtained last year and put on public display.

Netanyahu previously visited Germany as prime minister in 1998, when he met with Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn, then still the capital of Germany. At the time Kohl was a political mentor to Merkel.

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