September 22, 2019 / 8:03 PM / a month ago

France says main priority is to de-escalate U.S.-Iran tensions

NEW YORK (Reuters) - France’s foreign minister said on Sunday his country’s main aim at this week’s U.N. General Assembly meeting is to de-escalate tensions between the United States and Iran and that a meeting between their presidents was not the top priority.

FILE PHOTO: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks after a meeting of the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council in Moscow, Russia, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

“The meeting between (U.S.) President (Donald) Trump and (Iranian) President (Hassan) Rouhani is not the number one subject. The priority subject is whether we can restart a de-escalation path with the different actors,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters.

France has led a European effort to try to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran. But those efforts have stalled, with Iran reducing its commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, from which Washington withdraw last year, and the United States refusing to ease sanctions that have strangled Iran’s economy.

An attack on Saudi oil facilities, which the United States has blamed on Iran, has also complicated matters. Hopes at the end of August that Trump and Rouhani could meet at the United Nations appear to have all but died.

Iran denied involvement in the attack. Yemen’s Houthi movement, an Iran-aligned group fighting a Saudi-led alliance in Yemen’s civil war, has claimed responsibility.

“The path to dialogue was there, but the parameters for a negotiation have been reduced and the margins shortened,” Le Drian said.

France had pinned its efforts on offering Iran a $15 billion credit line that would enable it to eventually sell its oil, in return for which Iran would return fully to the nuclear deal and open a broader negotiation on its future nuclear activities, its ballistic missile program and regional influence.

That plan depended on the United States easing some sanctions.

French President Emmanuel Macron is due to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose countries are also parties to the nuclear deal, on Monday, as well as Trump and Rouhani.

“This moment is dangerous for the world and the situation is serious because of the magnitude of the strikes (on Saudi Arabia) and its targets and ... (they) came when we thought there was a window of opportunity for talks,” Le Drian said.

Calling the attack a turning point, he added that it was imperative to get to the bottom of it so there can be a firm political response, although he declined to say what that response could be.

“What we want is that these events and actions are documented and then the international community will be within its right to ask for explanations. But first we need to know who and why they acted like that,” Le Drian said, adding that the Houthi claims lacked credibility.

Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Peter Cooney

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