France's foreign minister has arrived in Tehran amid rising global tensions over the future of the 2015 nuclear deal and Iran's role in the seven-year-long civil war in Syria.
Jean-Yves Le Drian's visit was originally scheduled for January, but it was delayed after student-led street protests broke out in many Iranian cities.
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that during his two-day visit, Le Drian was due to meet with President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss "bilateral, regional, and international issues," including the implementation of the 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 in doubt after U.S. President Donald Trump last year said he would quit the agreement this May unless flaws in it were "fixed."
The French Foreign Minister told the AFP news agency that Le Drian informed Tehran that he is no "emissary of Donald Trump."
"We want to preserve the nuclear deal because it is working, it's robust, and because the Iranians are respecting it," French diplomatic sources said.
But Le Drian did tell Tehran that the country needed to address concerns over its ballistic-missile program or face new sanctions.
"There are ballistic programs of missiles that can reach several thousand kilometers which are not compatible with UN Security Council resolutions and exceed the sole need of defending Iran's borders," Le Drian told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
"If not tackled head on, this country risks new sanctions," he added.
Iranian officials have repeatedly said that the country’s missile and nuclear programs are intended for defense purposes and are nonnegotiable.
Tehran has said Iran "will not accept any amendments in [the nuclear] agreement, be it now or in the future, and it will not allow any other issues to be linked to [it]."
The two countries also have disagreements over Iran's involvement in the Syria conflict.
Meanwhile, Zarif slammed the European Union for "extremism" in relationship to Tehran in an interview published on March 5 ahead of his meeting with Le Drian.
"In order to keep the United States in the Iran nuclear deal, European countries are suffering from extremism and this will ultimately undermine Europe's policy," Iran's foreign minister told the reformist newspaper Etemad.
French President Emmanuel Macron, during a March 4 phone conversation, urged Rohani to put the "necessary pressure" on the Syrian government to halt "indiscriminate" attacks on civilians in a rebel-held enclave in the eastern Ghouta region.
The French president underscored the "particular responsibility for Iran, because of its ties to the [Damascus] regime, regarding the implementation of the humanitarian truce" sought by the United Nations, his office said.
According to the Iranian presidency's website, Rohani countered by telling Macron that countries selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and its allies must answer for "war crimes" being committed in Yemen.
France is one of the biggest arms exporters to Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a military coalition backing the Yemeni internationally recognized government against 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 business discussions.
Iran in 2017 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.
With reporting by Reuters, Fars, AFP, ISNA, and Mehr