French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said ahead of a March 5visit to Tehran that the country needed to address concerns over its ballistic-missile program or risked new sanctions.
"There are ballistic programs of missiles that can reach several thousand kilometers which are not compatible with UN Security Council resolutions and exceed the sole need of defending Iran's borders," Le Drian told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
"If not tackled head on, this country risks new sanctions," he added.
Iranian officials have repeatedly said that the country’s missile program is aimed for defense purposes and is nonnegotiable.
Reacting to Le Drian’s comments, the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman told the semiofficial Fars news agency that France's concern over Tehran's ballistic missile program was "wrong."
"Iran is an independent country.... Its defensive missile work will continue,” Bahram Qasemi said.
Le Drian said last month that Iran'smissile program and involvement in regional conflicts needed to be addressed if the country "wants to return to the family of nations.”
His stance was criticized on March 3 by Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Iran's defense program is not the concern of other countries such as France, that they should come and tell us what missiles we can have. Do we tell France how it should defend itself?" Velayati told the semiofficial ISNA news agency.
"If Le Drian's visit is aimed at reinforcing our relations, he would do well to avoid negative positions," Velayati added.
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on March 4 that during his two-day visit to Tehran, Le Drian is due to meet with President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss "bilateral, regional, and international issues," including the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers under which Tehran has signiifcantly limited its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
On March 5, the French minister is to inaugurate an exhibition at Tehran’s National Museum of Iran that will display dozens of masterpieces from Paris’s Louvre museum.
Iranian and French media reported that Le Drian's trip will prepare the grounds for a potential visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to Iran later this year.