France's foreign minister has held a rare face-to-face meeting with her Iranian counterpart in China, urging Tehran to release French nationals "arbitrarily detained" in Iran, the foreign ministry said Friday.
Catherine Colonna, traveling with President Emmanuel Macron on his state visit to China, met Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Beijing.
Amir-Abdollohian was leading the Iranian delegation in separate reconciliation talks in Beijing between Iran and its once arch regional foe Saudi Arabia.
China mediated the reconciliation last month in a sign of Beijing's growing clout in the Middle East.
Colonna "renewed her urgent demand for the immediate release of the six French citizens who Iran is arbitrarily detaining," the French statement said.
The six are among an estimated two dozen foreigners who activists and Western governments say are being held by Iran as hostages in a bid to extract concessions.
Iran's foreign ministry confirmed the meeting took place, adding that "some consular issues were also raised during the meeting." It did not specify further.
Contacts between Iran and European powers — including over the Iranian nuclear program — have been drastically scaled down over Tehran's deadly crackdown on the protest movement that erupted in September.
"The talks also focused on the situation in Iran, regional issues and the Iranian nuclear program. The minister expressed France's concern about the attitude of the Iranian authorities on all these subjects," the statement said.
For its part, the Iranian foreign ministry said: "The foreign ministers of the two countries emphasized the necessity of mutual respect and continuation of dialogue."
The Iran protests began in mid-September after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian Kurd who had been arrested for allegedly violating Iran's strict dress code for women.
Four men have been executed in protest-related cases in what activists have described as "show trials.”
According to Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR), at least 537 people have been killed by security forces in the crackdown on the protests.