BAMAKO (Reuters) - France's president, Francois Hollande, said on Thursday he would meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly next week, the first meeting between presidents of the two countries since 2005.
France has been a strong advocate of sanctions to pressure Iran over its nuclear programme but has been cautious since Rouhani, a relative moderate, was elected earlier this year. Hollande said he had accepted an invitation to meet with the new Iranian leader.
"There is a plan to meet with the Iranian president at his request," Hollande told reporters before leaving Bamako, where he was attending a ceremony to mark the swearing-in of Mali's new president.
Hollande would be the first Western leader of the P5+1 nations - United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - to meet Rouhani, although the White House said on Thursday it was possible that President Barack Obama could meet Rouhani in New York if Tehran signalled it was serious about giving up its nuclear programme.
"We should not slam the door on him. We need to see what is behind the words and things will be judged on the acts. The meetings on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly will enable us to establish what the Iranian intentions are," said a French diplomatic source.
Hollande, who will be the first French president to meet an Iranian president since 2005 when Jacques Chirac met Mohammad Khatami in Paris, is due to attend the U.N. meeting on September 24.
France's foreign minister is also scheduled to meet his Iranian counterpart, the first time foreign ministers of the countries have met since September 2011.
The United States and its western allies believe Iran is working towards developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful and aimed at power production. (Reporting Eliabeth Pineau and John Irish, writing by John Irish; Editing by Janet Lawrence)