French Foreign Minister in Iran Amid Missile Criticism

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. (Reuters/Edgard Garrido)

France’s foreign minister arrived in Tehran on Monday for meetings with the country’s president and his Iranian counterpart, Iranian state media reported, with talks likely to focus on Syria’s yearslong war and French criticism of Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Jean-Yves Le Drian’s one-day trip highlights the balancing act Paris finds itself in after Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

While French leaders, including President Emmanuel Macron, have criticized Iran’s missile program, French companies like oil giant Total SA have bullishly entered the Iranian market after the atomic accord, complicating any possible sanctions.

Le Drian had been scheduled to visit Tehran earlier but postponed his trip after protests across Iran in late December and early January that saw at least 21 people killed. Macron praised the demonstrations as “the free expression of the Iranian people,” though he did not offer a full-throated encouragement of them like President Donald Trump.

Ahead of Le Drian’s trip, the French Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying he would pursue “a frank and demanding dialogue with Iran,” including over its ballistic missile program and its regional activities.

France, the United States and the United Nations say Iran supplies ballistic missile technology to Shiite rebels in Yemen, who have fired the weapons into Saudi Arabia. Iran denies supplying the rebels with that and describes its ballistic missile program as only a defensive weapon.

Macron also has said he wants to see the emergence of an accord limiting Iran’s regional presence. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror  group is notably fighting in Syria at the side of President Bashar Assad and has a prime political role in Lebanon, where it is based.

Some Iranian students protested Le Drian’s arrival Monday, waving signs criticizing his comments on Iran’s ballistic missile program, state media reported. Le Drian immediately met with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, after his arrival.