France looks to fan nuke deal momentum with Iran's minister
PARIS -- France's foreign minister said on Wednesday that his country will work toward guaranteeing Iran's return to the international community despite major differences over Syria.
Jean-Marc Ayrault spoke after meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has been making the rounds of European capitals to seek benefits from a nuclear accord widely hailed as a new chapter in Iran's relations with the West.
Zarif held back-to-back meetings with French officials, notably President Francois Hollande. He was also meeting France's finance minister.
The international accord, which was implemented in January, gave Iran relief from decades of crippling sanctions in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. But capitalizing on it has been slow going, as Western businesses and the banking sector remain wary of investing in the unknown.
Zarif complained during his meetings about complicated banking relations. A leading French official noted a psychological dimension at play in dealings with Iran, which has long had a pariah status in the West that cannot be immediately undone. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named.
Critics blame foot-dragging in the United States, and Ayrault said that "each time it is necessary, we will ask Americans to do their part of the job because we want the accord ... to succeed."
The visit appeared to fuel momentum between Paris and Tehran, kick-started by the nuclear accord and the January visit to Paris of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Zarif arrived in the French capital on Tuesday, his first visit, as Boeing announced what could become the biggest deal between Iran and an American company since the 1979 revolution - a multibillion-dollar agreement of intent to buy aircraft. France-based Airbus announced a similar transaction in January.
The talks went beyond bilateral ties, to major sticking points like Syria, where Iran actively backs the government. France has been a leading voice in pressing for the departure of Syrian leader Bashar Assad.
"Differences are a reality," Zarif said, but dialogue is important.
With Syrian peace efforts at a standstill, Zarif said Iran is "ready for constructive discussions."
"In Syria, there never was or will be a military solution," he said in Farsi, through a translator.
Zarif also said that Tehran plans to cooperate with other nations to fight extremism, but did not elaborate.
"We see the plague of terrorism has no borders," he said, noting the November Paris attacks that killed 130.
Iran announced Tuesday it had broken up a plot by Sunni extremists to bomb 50 points in Tehran.
France has been a leader in reaching out to a post-sanctions Iran, announcing a bevy of potential business deals during the Iranian president's January visit.
Human rights issues, particularly Iran's liberal recourse to the death penalty, were said to be on the table with Ayrault, a diplomatic official said ahead of the talks.
Air France restarted flights to Tehran in April. Automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen finalized a 400-million euro ($450 million) joint venture with Iran's Khodro on Tuesday to produce latest-generation cars.
Critics of cozier ties to Iran note its continued use of the death penalty or its past status as a state that sponsored terrorism.
Zarif, who has visited a string of European capitals since May, was heading to the Netherlands before returning home.
Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.