Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has been invited to visit Paris in November, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Tehran on Wednesday.
The official invitation came in a letter addressed to Rouhani from French President Francois Hollande which Fabius delivered on his trip to the Iranian capital, two weeks after a nuclear deal was struck between the Islamic republic and world powers.
Fabius arrived in Iran earlier that day and said it was time to kickstart relations between the two countries after the nuclear deal made such a change possible.
“It’s an important trip,” Fabius told reporters at the French embassy in Tehran as he started a short but much-heralded visit following the July 14 accord between Iran and six world powers.
As France’s chief diplomat in those negotiations, Fabius gained a reputation for taking a hawkish public stance on what Iran must do under a nuclear deal.
He has also come under criticism from Iranian media, earning the nickname “the obstacle” in the ultimately successful talks.
Acknowledging much had to be done to improve the relationship between Tehran and Paris, however, Fabius said both nations stood to benefit from the recent diplomacy.
“We are two great, independent countries, two great civilizations. It is true that in recent years, for reasons that everyone knows, the ties have cooled but now thanks the nuclear deal, things will be able to change,” he said.
Describing the one-day visit to Iran as an opportunity to revive ties “especially in the economic domain because there is a lot we can do together,” he did not, however, dodge key disagreements.
“There are a number of points on which we have differences,” Fabius said, alluding to regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen and also to Iran’s refusal to acknowledge Israel.
Beyond the nuclear issue, Fabius’s trip to Iran has come under fire in recent days with conservative media outlets highlighting his connection to a tainted blood scandal dating from the 1980s when he was French prime minister.
At that time the French National Blood Transfusion Center exported blood products contaminated with the AIDS virus which led to the deaths of hundreds of Iranians.
Fabius was acquitted in 1999 by the French courts over the scandal, in which people in France also died.
Ten of Iran’s 290 members of parliament wrote Tuesday to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asking him to withdraw Fabius’s invitation, but the government has defended the visit.