Hollande Meets Rouhani, Demands Action from Iran

French president becomes the first Western leader to meet Iran's new president.

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Elad Benari,

French President Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande

French President Francois Hollande met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday, becoming became the first Western leader to do so, reports Reuters.

France has been a strong advocate of sanctions to pressure Iran over its nuclear program but has been cautious in its statements since Rouhani, a relative moderate, was elected in June.

Hollande, who exchanged handshakes with Rouhani at the United Nations in mid-afternoon, the first between leaders of the two countries since 2005, told the UN General Assembly that while he was encouraged by the words of the new Iranian government, he now wanted acts to follow.

"France expects of Iran concrete gestures which will show that this country renounces its military nuclear program even if it clearly has the right to pursue its civilian program," Hollande told the General Assembly before going into a meeting with Rouhani.

"This is why I have made the choice to engage in direct and open dialogue with President Rouhani," Hollande said, adding, "But I will also say ... I am in favor of dialogue, but just as strongly I am firm on the issue of nuclear proliferation."

After a 40-minute meeting, a French aide said the encounter had been polite and courteous, with the two men discussing the crisis in Syria, Lebanon and Iran's nuclear program.

"The French president said he had taken note of the overtures by his counterpart ... and on the nuclear issue he said that there needed to be quick results within the 5+1 framework," the aide said, according to Reuters.

Since Rouhani was elected president, he has called for "constructive interaction" with the world, a dramatic shift in tone from the anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rouhani recently said that the time for resolving Iran's nuclear dispute with the West was limited, urging the world to seize the opportunity of his election. At the same time, he has stressed that Tehran would not consider halting the country’s uranium enrichment activities entirely.

Rouhani has exchanged letters with U.S. President Barack Obama, who wrote to him that the United States is ready to resolve its nuclear dispute with Iran in a way that allows Tehran to show it is not trying to build weapons.

In his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Obama reached out to Iran, reiterating American opposition to the idea of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon but supporting an Iranian civilian nuclear program.

Senior administration officials said Tuesday that Obama was open to meeting Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, but Rouhani refused.