French minister to discuss missile programme and nuclear deal with Iran

Jean-Yves Le Drian plans trip to Tehran in March after Trump’s ultimatum to European nations about the accord

epa06450997 Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (R) and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian (C) attend a ceremony at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Camberley, Britain, 18 January 2018. British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to make an announcement as part of the Anglo-France Summit at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where she will discuss migration Brexit and Britain's strong and wide-ranging bilateral relationship with President Macron.  EPA/LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL MAXPPP OUT

France’s foreign minister said on Monday that he would visit Iran on March 5 to discuss its ballistic missile programme and the nuclear deal agreed with world powers in 2015, as tensions between the two countries rise.

In an interview with daily newspaper Le Figaro, Jean-Yves Le Drian said that he would discuss the landmark nuclear deal after the ultimatum delivered on January 12 by US president Donald Trump to Britain, France and Germany to “fix” the deal or else America would withdraw from it.

“A country that goes back on its word devalues its word,” Mr Le Drian told the newspaper.

Tensions between Iran and France have risen in recent months with both sides repeatedly trading barbs in public, including the French minister accusing Iran of “hegemonic temptations” in the region, referring to accusations that the country is meddling in the affairs of other nations in the area.

Iranian officials have been particularly aggrieved by France’s criticism of its ballistic missile tests and suggestions of possible new sanctions over the programme. Iran has repeatedly said its missile programme is purely defensive and dismisses western assertions that its regional activities are destabilising.

“If Iran wants to return to the concert of nations, it must co-operate on these questions,” said Mr Le Drian, who postponed a trip to Tehran this month because of demonstrations in the country.

“Otherwise, it will with reason always be suspected of wanting to develop nuclear weapons,” he added.

Under the UN resolution enshrining the nuclear deal with the US, Iran is “called upon” to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for up to eight years. Some states argue that this language does not make it obligatory.

Iran has denied that it has missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Mr Le Drian said he would also raise what he called Iran’s “destabilising military influence in the Middle East”, notably its support for Lebanon’s Hizbollah and Yemen’s Houthi militias.

With Mr Trump warning of a last chance for “the worst deal ever negotiated”, Britain, France and Germany have begun talks on a plan to satisfy him by addressing Iran’s ballistic missile tests and its regional influence while preserving the 2015 accord.