|Iranian and French presidents meet at UN, discuss ties, Syria crisis||
TEHRAN – French President Francois Hollande became the first Western leader to meet new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday.
During the meeting which was held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Rouhani said that the two countries could expand their relations and cooperate on regional and international issues, according to the Iranian presidential office.
He also commented on the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the West should adopt a constructive approach which would lead to the settlement of the issue.
France has been a strong advocate of sanctions to pressure Iran over its nuclear program but has been cautious in its statements since Rouhani, a relative moderate, was elected.
A French presidential source said the 40-minute meeting had been polite and courteous and centered on Iran's nuclear program, the crisis in Syria and neighboring Lebanon.
"Compared to the previous administration there are signs, but the reality is that there are still hurdles to jump and progress to be made," the source said.
The presidential source said that the talks did not go into details on the nuclear program, but that Rouhani had raised concerns about the economic sanctions on his country, suggesting Paris could immediately end sanctions on the automobile sector.
"We told them that if there is progress on the nuclear dossier then the sanctions will fall by themselves," the source said.
Hollande is the first Western leader of the P5+1 nations - United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany - to meet Rouhani, and the first French leader to meet an Iranian president since Jacques Chirac met Mohammad Khatami in 2005.
Hollande also discussed the crisis in Syria with Rouhani, hoping to persuade Tehran to loosen its support for President Bashar al-Assad and accept the terms of the proposed "Geneva 2" peace conference that calls for a transitional authority in the civil war-torn country, something Iran has so far not backed.
The French source said that Rouhani had not tried to mix the Syria crisis with the nuclear dossier and told Hollande he wanted the war to end and was open to the idea of Geneva 2.
"On Syria it's not just resolving the chemical issue, but to go get to a political solution and we know that solution also goes through Tehran," the source said.
Rouhani also held meetings with a number of senior foreign officials on Tuesday, including Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
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