United Nations

Francois Hollande seeks 'gestures' in meeting with Hassan Rowhani

President Francois Hollande demands action on Iran's military atomic plans from new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 11:10am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 4:11am

French President Francois Hollande urged Iran to make "concrete gestures" on its disputed nuclear programme before meeting Tehran's new leader.

"France expects Iran to make concrete gestures to show that it renounces its military nuclear programme, even if it has a right to a civilian programme," Hollande told the UN General Assembly.

Hollande later became the first Western leader to meet President Hassan Rowhani, a reputed moderate.

The two presidents smiled for the cameras and shook hands before entering a 40-minute session at France's UN mission.

In front of Iranian, French and European Union flags, Hollande praised "this first contact which calls for others", while Rowhani urged "a better future" in relations between the two countries.

The leaders were accompanied by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, a US-educated diplomat seen as key in Rowhani's outreach efforts, three months after he swept to power on promises to ease tensions with the West and fix Iran's battered economy.

"The question at hand is to know if these words can translate into actions, especially on the nuclear issue," Hollande said at the General Assembly. "For the past 10 years, talks haven't gone anywhere."

Iran says its sensitive nuclear work is meant for civilian purposes. But Western officials fear Iran may be working to build a nuclear bomb and Israel has not ruled out a military strike.

France, unlike the United States, has diplomatic relations with Iran, although it has also pressed Tehran over its nuclear programme.

"I accepted dialogue with President Rowhani as he himself has shown an openness," Hollande said.

He also talked to Rowhani about Syria, whose embattled President Bashar al-Assad counts Iran as a top ally. Hollande reiterated that he did not oppose Rowhani's presence at a future Geneva peace conference on Syria, but the focus had to be on transition from the regime.