France's foreign minister arrived in Tehran on Monday for meetings with the country's president and his Iranian counterpart, Iran's state TV reported, with talks likely to focus on Syria's years-long war and French criticism of Iran's ballistic missile program.
Jean-Yves Le Drian's one-day trip highlights the balancing act Paris finds itself in after Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
While French leaders, including President Emmanuel Macron, have criticized Iran's missile program, French companies like oil giant Total SA have bullishly entered the Iranian market after the atomic accord, complicating any possible sanctions.
Ahead of Le Drian's trip, the French Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying he would pursue "a frank and demanding dialogue with Iran."
Iran's ballistic missile capacity and position "worries us enormously," Le Drian said last week at a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. "Having such tools is not uniquely defensive, given the distance they can reach."
Le Drian faced immediate pushback over French concerns about Iran's ballistic missiles, starting with Iranian students waving signs at Iran's Mehrabad International Airport protesting his comments.
That continued with Iran's armed forces spokesman Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, who this weekend said Tehran only would give up its missiles when the West abandons nuclear weapons.
"The country's defense capabilities will continue non-stop and foreigners do not have the right to enter this field," Jazayeri said Monday, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
France, the United States and the United Nations say Iran supplies ballistic missile technology to Shi'ite rebels in Yemen, who have fired the weapons into Saudi Arabia. Iran denies supplying the rebels with that and describes its ballistic missile program as only a defensive weapon.
Le Drian first met Monday with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. Shamkhani, a former chief of Iran's navy, made a point to wear his military uniform to the meeting.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force that answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, runs the country's ballistic missile program.
Le Drian had been scheduled to visit Tehran earlier but postponed his trip after protests across Iran in late December and early January that saw at least 21 people killed.
Macron praised the demonstrations as "the free expression of the Iranian people," though he did not offer a full-throated encouragement of them like President Donald Trump.
Macron also has said he wants to see the emergence of an accord limiting Iran's regional presence. The Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah is notably fighting in Syria at the side of President Bashar Assad and has a prime political role in Lebanon, where it is based.
During his visit, Le Drian is also to inaugurate an exhibition called "The Louvre in Tehran" at the Iranian National Museum.