Fabius says time to warm up Iran-France relations
France sought to revive its relations with Iran on Wednesday, extending an invitation to President Hassan Rouhani to visit Paris in November, a gesture that follows this month's historic nuclear deal.
The offer came in a letter delivered to Rouhani by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is in Tehran on a short trip aimed at kickstarting ties between the countries after years of strain.
During a visit to the capital that has attracted a mixture of optimism and criticism, Fabius said the nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers including France offers the chance for rapprochement.
"We are two great, independent countries. It is true that in recent years, for reasons that everyone knows, the ties have cooled but now thanks to the nuclear deal, things will be able to change," Fabius told reporters.
Around the time of his arrival at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran a small group of protesters carried placards criticising Fabius for his role in a tainted blood scandal that killed hundreds of Iranians in the 1980s.
Fabius was prime minister at that time when the French National Blood Transfusion Centre exported blood products contaminated with the AIDS virus.
"AIDS, France's gift to Tehran," one of the billboards said, while another stated: "We will neither forgive nor forget."
Iran's Tasnim news agency said some protesters who had been asked to end their demonstration were briefly arrested.
Fabius was acquitted in 1999 by the French courts over the scandal, in which people in France also died.
Speaking at the French embassy he described his visit as important in many areas "especially in the economic domain because there is a lot we can do together".
Fabius then held a short press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, where the invitation to Rouhani was announced.
If taken up, the trip would be the Iranian president's first to France since he won an election in 2013 that heralded the push to clinch a nuclear deal to resolve a decade-long crisis.
"From now we hope to deepen our relations in all areas," said Zarif.
"We want to start a new chapter in a sense of common interest."
Fabius said the nuclear deal, agreed on 14 July, made such a change possible.
As France's chief diplomat in the nuclear negotiations, Fabius gained a reputation for taking a hawkish public stance on what Iran must do under any such accord.
He has also come under criticism from Iranian media, earning the nickname "the obstacle" in the ultimately successful talks.
Acknowledging much had to be done to improve the relationship between Tehran and Paris, Fabius said both nations stood to benefit from the recent diplomacy.
But he did not dodge key disagreements.
"There are a number of points on which we have differences," Fabius said, alluding to regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen and also on Iran's refusal to recognise Israel.
Ten of Iran's 290 members of parliament wrote on Tuesday to Zarif asking him to withdraw Fabius's invitation, but the government has defended the visit.
Other European countries have been quick to plan trips to Tehran following the deal.
On 15 July, Italian Minister of Economic Development Federica Guidi said that following the agreement reached between Iran and G5+1, a commercial and economic delegation is to visit Iran soon.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni is also due to travel to Iran next month on the 4 or 5 August, Italy’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
Earlier this month, German Vice Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel visited Iran to discuss economic partnerships. The hastily arranged visit was reported by many media outlets as a rush to exploit business opportunities in Iran.