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French President Emmanuel Macron reacts as he meets a group of children to mark the United Nations Universal Children’s Day at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, November 20, 2017. Picture taken November 20, 2017. REUTERS/Michel Euler/Pool(reuters_tickers)
BEIRUT/PARIS (Reuters) - France can play a productive role in the Middle East by taking a "realistic and impartial approach", Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, in a phone call on Tuesday, according to Iranian state media.
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 programme. His foreign minister also denounced Tehran's "hegemonic temptations" during a visit to Saudi Arabia.
Iranian state media said Rouhani 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.
Rouhani 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 criticised Iran and its Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim ally Hezbollah at talks in Cairo on Sunday, calling for a united front to counter Iranian influence.
Rouhani also highlighted the importance of maintaining stability in Lebanon and, in the phone call with Macron, noted what he characterised 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," Rouhani said.
"Now we have to try so the Lebanese groups can, with security, have a government that can help advance their country."
Macron, whose country has called for Hezbollah to disarm, 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 part of his coalition government - of sowing strife across the Middle East.
Macron spoke on Monday with Netanyahu, who is due in Paris in December, according to diplomatic sources.
According to the Iranian state media, Macron invited Rouhani to Paris for a climate summit on Dec. 12. Macron's office did not respond when asked to confirm the invite.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Larry King)