France can play productive role in Middle East – Rouhani tells Macron

Iran President, Hassan Rouhani
Iran President, Hassan Rouhani

France can play a productive role in the Middle East by taking a “realistic and impartial approach”, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call on Tuesday, according to Iranian state media.

Tensions between Iran and France increased last week after Mr. Macron said that Tehran should be less aggressive in the region and should clarify its ballistic missile programme.

Iranian state media said Mr. Rouhani told Mr. Macron that the Islamic Republic was ready to develop its relations with France on all bilateral, regional and international issues based on mutual respect and shared goals.

Mr. Rouhani referred to the “adventurism of some inexperienced princes in the region”- an allusion to Iran’s arch geopolitical rival Saudi Arabia – and said France could play a positive role in easing the situation.

“We are against adventurism and creating division in the region and believe that France, by keeping an independent vote and its position in the region, can, with a realistic and impartial approach, have a productive role,” he said.

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states criticised Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah at talks in Cairo on Sunday, calling for a united front to counter Iranian influence.

Mr. Rouhani also highlighted the importance of maintaining stability in Lebanon and, in the phone call with Mr. Macron, noted what he characterised as the threat posed by Israel.

“Hezbollah are a part of the Lebanese people and are incredibly loved in this country. Their weapons are only defensive and are only for use in the face of a potential attack,” Mr. Rouhani said.

“Now, we have to try so the Lebanese groups can, with security, have a government that can help advance their country.”

Mr. Macron has tried to mediate in a regional crisis that erupted after Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad al-Hariri, announced his resignation in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia on November 4, accusing Tehran and Hezbollah, which was in his coalition government, of sowing strife across the Middle East.

France has called on Hezbollah to disarm. “France’s demands on Hezbollah are well known. In accordance with the relevant (U.N.) Security Council resolutions, we want it to give up weapons and behave like a party that is fully respectful of the sovereignty of the Lebanese state,” a French foreign ministry spokeswoman said in a daily briefing on Tuesday.

Lebanese government sources said earlier this month that Mr. Hariri was forced by Saudi Arabia to quit because he was unwilling to confront Hezbollah.

Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, has said he would not decide whether to accept the resignation until Mr. Hariri returns to Lebanon to explain the situation.

Saudi Arabia has denied holding Mr. Hariri against his will or that he had been forced to resign.

Mr. Hariri left Saudi Arabia to visit France last weekend and is expected to return to Lebanon in time for Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday.


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