Iran's Rohani: Middle Eastern Countries Must Not Fall for 'Israel's Trap'

In conversation with Macron, Iranian president urged the French president to take an active role in the region after France chided Tehran for its nuclear missile tests

France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) meeting with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in New York on September 19, 2017
LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP

France can play a productive role in the Middle East by taking a "realistic and impartial approach," Iranian President Hassan Rohani told French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in a phone call on Tuesday, according to Iranian state media.

Rohani also warned the Middle East "not to fall into Israel's trap," Iranian State TV reported. 

Tensions between Iran and France increased last week after Macron said that Tehran should be less aggressive in the region and should clarify its ballistic missile program.

Iranian state media said Rohani told Macron that the Islamic Republic was ready to develop its relations with France on all bilateral, regional and international issues based on mutual respect and shared goals.

Rohani referred to the "adventurism of some inexperienced princes in the region"- an allusion to Iran's arch geopolitical rival Saudi Arabia - and said France could play a positive role in easing the situation.

"We are against adventurism and creating division in the region and believe that France, by keeping an independent vote and its position in the region, can, with a realistic and impartial approach, have a productive role," he said.

In a rare statement on both calls, Macron's office said he had talked to Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu separately, telling them both that it was vital to keep Lebanon disassociated from regional crises. 

He also said France was attached to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers, but that regional and ballistic issues should be discussed separately and constructively. 

Macron "also stressed the importance for the countries of the region to work collectively to reduce tensions," the statement said. 

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states criticized Iran and its Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim ally Hezbollah at talks in Cairo on Sunday, calling for a united front to counter Iranian influence.

Rohani also highlighted the importance of maintaining stability in Lebanon and, in the phone call with Macron, noted what he characterized as the threat posed by Israel.

"Hezbollah are a part of the Lebanese people and are incredibly loved in this country. Their weapons are only defensive and are only for use in the face of a potential attack," Rohani said.

"Now we have to try so the Lebanese groups can, with security, have a government that can help advance their country."

Macron has tried to mediate in a regional crisis that erupted after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, accusing Tehran and Hezbollah, which was in his coalition government, of sowing strife across the Middle East.

France has called on Hezbollah to disarm. "France's demands on Hezbollah are well known. In accordance with the relevant (U.N.) Security Council resolutions, we want it to give up weapons and behave like a party that is fully respectful of the sovereignty of the Lebanese state," a French foreign ministry spokeswoman said in a daily briefing on Tuesday.

Lebanese government sources told Reuters earlier this month that Hariri was forced by Saudi Arabia to quit because he was unwilling to confront Hezbollah. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has said he would not decide whether to accept the resignation until Hariri returns to Lebanon to explain the situation.

Saudi Arabia has denied holding Hariri against his will or that he had been forced to resign. Hariri left Saudi Arabia to visit France last weekend and is expected to return to Lebanon in time for Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday.