In a potential sign that a thaw in relations between Iran and the West is possible, French President François Hollande has held an unprecedented meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rohani, during the first day of the UN General Assembly.
French President François Hollande became the first Western leader to meet newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rohani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, in what could signal a modest thawing in relations between the Islamic Republic and the West.
Heading into the closed-door meeting, Hollande said it expected “concrete gestures” by Iran to show it will give up a military nuclear programme, echoing cautious statements by US President Barack Obama.
A French presidential source said the 40-minute meeting had been polite and courteous and centred on Iran’s nuclear programme, the crisis in Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, where Tehran has considerable influence over the armed Shiite group Hezbollah.
France has been one of the fiercest critics of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting armed rebels in a bloody civil, and who counts Iran as one of its steadfast allies.
“Compared to the previous [Iranian] administration, there are signs, but the reality is that there are still hurdles and progress to be made,” the French source said of the gathering between Hollande and Rohani.
Paris said that the meeting was “a first contact that beckoned more meetings,” while Tehran said it wished “a brighter future” for relations between the two countries. A face-to-face meeting between French and Iranian heads of state has not taken place since 2005.
Obama did not meet Rohani on Tuesday, despite intense speculation over the possibility of a brief, but highly-symbolic handshake between the leaders of two countries that have been estranged for decades.
(FRANCE24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-09-25