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France’s Hollande to meet Iran’s Rouhani at UN

The office of French President Francois Hollande says he will meet his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next week.

It comes as President Hassan Rouhani has indicated a more moderate and Western-friendly attitude than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

There has been speculation that Mr Rouhani might also meet US President Barack Obama in New York.

Correspondents say this would herald a major thaw in US-Iran relations.

French officials said the meeting between Mr Hollande and Mr Rouhani on Tuesday had been organised at the request of Iran.

They said it would focus on the crisis in Syria and on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.

Tehran says its uranium enrichment programme is for peaceful purposes, but the US and its allies suspect Iran is trying to make a nuclear weapon.

“What we want to see is an Iran fully engaged, like other players, in the search for a real political transition in Syria,” an aide to President Hollande said, quoted by AFP news agency.

Unlike the US, which has no diplomatic relations with Iran, France has always maintained links to Tehran.

However, the relationship has soured in recent years, particularly over the nuclear issue.

Earlier this week, Iran released several political prisoners including noted human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and reformist politician Mohsen Aminzadeh.

President Rouhani also gave an interview to US broadcaster NBC this week in which he said he had full authority to negotiate with the West over the nuclear issue.

He also described a recent letter sent to him by President Obama as “positive and constructive”.