After Netanyahu talks, Macron warns of Iran nuclear 'consequences'

PARIS, France -- French President Emmanuel Macron denounced on Thursday the "headlong rush" of Iran's nuclear programme after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Paris to seek a stronger European stance against Tehran.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) wave prior to a working dinner at the Presidential Elysee Palace in Paris on February 2, 2023. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

In a statement released after a dinner meeting in the Elysee Palace, Macron warned that Tehran continuing with the atomic project "would inevitably have consequences".

Israel has long accused Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, while Tehran insists its nuclear programme is aimed solely at generating energy.

Netanyahu hopes Iran's role in supplying drones to Russian invaders in Ukraine, as well as its crackdown on protests at home, will prompt Western allies to drop any pursuit of a revival of the 2015 atomic programme deal.

The prime minister has also said Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine, apparently dropping its more neutral stance over the conflict in the hope of securing a more confrontational Western position towards Tehran.

By "playing the Ukraine card", Netanyahu hopes to "consolidate an anti-Iranian front" with the West, said David Khalfa at the Fondation Jean Jaures, a Paris-based think tank.

He hopes for "increased sanctions against Iran and the full addition of the Revolutionary Guards to the list" of sanctioned entities, Khalfa added -- a step both France and Germany have so far resisted.

France agrees that "firmness" is needed in dealings with Iran, a diplomatic source told AFP earlier, saying the nuclear programme had reached "a dangerous point" and highlighting Tehran's role in the Ukraine war.

Siding with Ukraine is not without risk for Netanyahu, as Russian air defences deployed in neighbouring Syria could be turned against Israeli aircraft during their occasional raids on Iranian interests there.

Tensions mount

Iran also holds several foreign citizens who are considered political hostages by Western governments.

Netanyahu's visit came after a weekend drone attack on a defence ministry facility in the Iranian city of Isfahan, which Tehran has blamed on Israel.

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed officials, have said the attack was carried out by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, though this has not been confirmed by Israel.

Netanyahu visits as violence has intensified between Israelis and Palestinians with Israeli warplanes striking the Gaza Strip early Thursday, drawing Palestinian rocket fire in retaliation.

Last Friday, a Palestinian gunman shot dead seven people outside a synagogue in an Israeli settler neighbourhood of annexed east Jerusalem.

It was the deadliest attack targeting Israeli civilians in more than a decade, and came one day after an Israeli raid in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians.

Macron's office said before the get-together that the French leader would also "reiterate the need for all sides to avoid measures likely to feed the cycle of violence" between Israelis and Palestinians, while offering "France's solidarity with Israel in the face of terrorism".

Staying in France until Saturday, Netanyahu is also set to meet French business chiefs and leaders of the country's Jewish community, the Israeli embassy said.

Judicial reforms planned by the prime minister's latest coalition of right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties have raised the hackles of some business executives, notably in the financial sector, who have threatened to quit Israel.