4th Aug 2020

France and Germany welcome Iran 'shift'

France and Germany have welcomed Iran's call for a breakthrough in nuclear weapons talks, but said its new President must match words with actions.

French President Francois Hollande in his speech at the UN assembly in New York on Tuesday (24 September) said: "The statements by the new Iranian President represent [a] … ray of hope, because they mark a shift."

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  • Hollande (r) met Rohani, but Israeli diplomats left the UN chamber while he spoke (Photo: elysee.fr)

But he added: "France expects Iran to make concrete gestures proving that the country renounces its military nuclear programme, although it is perfectly entitled to pursue its civilian programme."

Hollande met Iranian President Hassan Rohani later the same day.

A French official told the AFP news agency the 40-minute conversation, the first top-level Iran-France encounter since 2005, was "polite, courteous … frank and direct."

He added that France wants to see "rapid results" in nuclear talks between Iran and world powers.

Germany is due to address the UN's yearly meeting on Monday.

But its outgoing foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, also met with Rohani in New York on Tuesday.

He described Rohani's speech to the UN earlier the same day as "encouraging" and in "stark contrast" to his predecessor, Iran's former president and hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Westerwelle told press after meeting Rohani: "The Iranians could be serious with a new constructive approach [on nuclear weapons] … It is critical that new substantial offers are made."

Rohani himself in his UN speech complained against Western claims to moral superiority and against Israel's "apartheid" policies toward Palestinians.

But he said he is "prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence" on what he described as Iran's "peaceful" nuclear energy programme.

He added: "Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran's security and defence doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions."

For his part, US leader Barack Obama, who spoke ahead of Rohani on Tuesday, noted that the decades-long Iran-US mistrust cannot "be overcome overnight."

He said he is "encouraged" by Iran's new rhetoric, adding "I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested." But he reserved the right to use force to defend US interests in the Middle East.

The first test of the shift in Iran relations is due in New York on Thursday, when foreign ministers from China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US are to hold direct talks on the nuclear dossier with their Iranian counterpart.

The meeting will be chaired by EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton.

But for his part, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement on his website on Wednesday poured scorn on the idea that Iran is changing.

He accused Rohani of "hypocrisy … [and] playing for time in order to advance its ability to achieve nuclear weapons."

Having instructed his UN envoys to leave the room while Rohani spoke, Netanyahu added: "I could not allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations ploy by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction."

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