Hollande to urge Iran to help seek political solution for Syria

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 20, 2013 3:37 PM
Hollande to urge Iran to help seek political solution for Syria

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande hopes to convince Iran to pursue a political solution to the civil war in Syria when he meets his Iranian counterpart next week, aides said on Friday.

Hollande and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who took office last month, are due to meet on Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Iran is one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main allies in the conflict, which has killed well over 100,000 and destabilized the region.

Meanwhile France, one of Assad's fiercest critics, suggested for the first time on Thursday that Paris could arm the rebels, though it considers a political solution the only way out of the conflict.

An aide to Hollande, who will be the first French president to meet his Iranian counterpart since 2005, said France was eager to get Iran on board for peace talks in Geneva.

"What we want is Iran to fully commit to seeking a real political transition in Syria, as other actors have," the official said.

France has been a strong advocate of sanctions to put pressure Iran over its nuclear program, which the West fears is directed at developing nuclear weapons, but has been more conciliatory since Rouhani, a relative moderate, was elected.

Rouhani told the American television network NBC this week that Iran would never seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.

Hollande said on Thursday he had accepted an invitation that could make him the first leader of a major Western power to meet the new Iranian president.

However, the White House also said on Thursday that it was possible President Barack Obama could meet Rouhani in New York if Iran signaled it was serious about curbing its nuclear program.

Hollande's aide said Paris did not want to open discussions in parallel to negotiations between Iran and the "P5+1" powers: Russia, China, the United States, Britain, Germany and France.

"Since President Rouhani has said that Iran does not want to obtain nuclear weapons, we simply want him to give the international community the means to make sure," the aide added.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed only at power production and medical uses.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Kevin Liffey)