0101 GMT March 25, 2018
“In the turbulent ocean of international diplomacy, cultural diplomacy is a beacon we must keep alight,” Le Drian told a large audience at an event sponsored by French oil giant Total, Reuters reported.
A French diplomat was more blunt: “Whatever disagreements we may have with Iran we want to keep and develop a cultural relationship with Iranian society.”
The Louvre exhibition in Tehran is the first by a major Western cultural institution and was agreed upon during a visit to Paris by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in 2016, when Francois Hollande was France’s leader.
After a day of tough talking in Tehran on Monday, France’s foreign minister and one of Iran’s vice presidents ambled through the halls of the National Museum of Iran to admire a collection of artworks on loan from the Louvre in Paris.
Relations between Iran and France have grown fraught of late, rattled by the French concerns over Tehran’s ballistic missile tests.
But President Emmanuel Macron’s government hopes the soft power of cultural diplomacy can help strengthen bilateral ties.
In a statement, the Louvre said its international strategy was directly influenced by French diplomatic priorities.
The four-month exhibition will display some 50 works from the Louvre, including a sphinx statue and other artifacts linked to Greek, Egyptian and Mesopotamian culture, as well as objects from ancient Iran.
France has historically had a less fractious relationship with Iran than either Britain or the United States. While Britain explored for Iranian oil in the 20th century, France undertook archaeological digs.
“I think our archaeological past in Iran has at least left a positive imprint,” the French diplomat said.
The brick building of the National Museum of Iran, which opened in 1937, was designed by two French architects influenced by Iran’s Sassanian heritage.
Le Drian on Monday delivered a message to Tehran that Europe wanted to keep alive the Iran’s nuclear deal, which Trump pronounced it “flawed” and gave Europeans until May 12 to fix it while echoing US concerns about Iran’s missile program.
After a day of tough talks, Le Drian said France would continue discussions with Iran, stressing the importance of finding a way to restore stability to the region.
He held talks with senior Iranian officials including President Rouhani, Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Shamkhani himself told Le Drian that Iran's missile program poses no threat to any country and is purely defensive. "Our missile work is... in line with our defensive policy, which poses no threat to any country," he said.