United Nations: Iran can be a facilitator in a political solution in Syria but President Bashar al-Assad cannot be part of it, French President Francois Hollande told his Iranian counterpart in a meeting on Sunday, according to a French official.
"Iran is a player (in the region), but also a facilitator," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "(Hollande) said that the question of Assad could not be offered as an answer."
The meeting, the first between the two leaders since a nuclear deal was reached in July between six global powers and Iran, was aimed to help prepare a scheduled state visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to France in mid-November to boost business and political relations.
Despite a long history of commercial, political and social links with Iran - in the 1970s late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei lived in exile near Paris - France took one of the hardest lines of the six powers negotiating the landmark nuclear accord.
The official said the two presidents had discussed the situation in Yemen, Lebanon as well as Syria, adding that while Hollande had offered his condolences to Rouhani over the Haj tragedy, he cautioned that the incident should not add to tension between Shi`ite-dominated Iran and its Sunni rival Saudi Arabia.
"What Rouhani wanted was to show that Franco-Iran relations have restarted bilaterally at a high-level after the nuclear deal and so that in Paris we can talk in-depth about the other subjects."
A senior French economic and political delegation traveled to Tehran on Sept 21 to lay the groundwork for the first business contracts between the two countries since July`s accord.
France`s main business lobby group, the Medef, sent a delegation comprising more than 130 firms, including companies such as oil major, planemaker Airbus and car manufacturer Peugeot.
"We are working to simplify economic relations," the official said. "We discussed sectors including technology, energy, transport and cars, which once was very important for us."