France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrived in the Iranian capital Tehran Monday for meetings with President Hassan Rouhani and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif to discuss developments in the Syrian Civil War and Paris’ criticism of Tehran’s ballistic missile program.
Le Drian’s visit was originally scheduled for January but was delayed due to a political crisis that saw several student-led mass street protests against the cleric-led government break out in dozens of Iranian cities.
Rohani, Zarif, and Le Drian will discuss “bilateral, regional, and international issues,” including the implementation of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers under which Tehran has significantly limited its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
The future of the deal was thrown into doubt after US President Donald Trump said last year that he would quit the agreement unless the flaws in it were “fixed.”
The French Foreign Ministry told the AFP news agency that Le Drian informed Tehran that he is not speaking on behalf of Trump, but Le Drian will tell the Iranians that more needs to be done to address concerns over its missile program Tehran will face new sanctions.
Iran’s ballistic missile capacity and position “worries us enormously,” Le Drian said last week at a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, indicating that the range of what is needed for purely defensive purposes.
Iranian officials have repeatedly said that the country’s missile and nuclear programs are intended for defensive purposes and are non-negotiable as they are “for peaceful purposes”.
Tehran has said Iran “will not accept any amendments to the [nuclear] agreement.”
The two countries are also at odds over Iran’s involvement in the Syria conflict.
French President Emmanuel Macron, during a March 4 phone conversation, urged Rohani to put “necessary pressure” on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad to halt “indiscriminate” attacks on civilians in the eastern Ghouta region – a rebel-held enclave near the capital Damascus.
According to Rouhani’s website, the president countered by Le Drian’s comments by telling Macron that countries selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and its allies must answer for the “war crimes” that are being committed in Yemen’s civil war.
France is one of the biggest arms exporters to Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a military coalition backing the internationally recognized Yemeni government against the Iran-led Shi’ite Huthi rebels and their allies since 2015.
Weapons programs and Syria aside, Paris and Tehran have growing economic interests and Le Drian is likely to engage Iranian officials in extensive business discussions.
In 2017, Iran sealed a gas-exploration deal worth $5 billion with French energy giant Total, a result of eased sanctions after Tehran signed the nuclear accord.
Iranian and French media reported that Le Drian’s trip will prepare the grounds for a potential visit by Macron to Iran later this year.