Jean-Yves Le Drian aims to save the 2015 nuclear deal, which US President Donald Trump has threatened to quit unless European allies help "fix" it by forcing Iran to change its behavior in other areas.
"We're not going to be Donald Trump's envoys or Iran's defence lawyers," said a French diplomatic source. "We have our own concerns and will talk to the different sensibilities of the Iranian system to get our point across."
France says Iran must address concern over its ballistic missile program or risk new sanctions. Iran's missile program is not covered by the nuclear deal, and Tehran says it will not bow to pressure to halt it.
"Our missile work is... in line with our defensive policy, which poses no threat to any country," the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, told Le Drian, according to the Students News Agency ISNA.
Earlier the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted an Iranian armed forces spokesman as saying: "Iran's missile program will continue non-stop and foreign powers have no right to intervene on this issue."
Hard-line media reacted angrily to Le Drian's visit with headlines like "Rude guest" and "Weapons of mass seduction." Fars news agency said a group of hard-liners gathered at Tehran's International Mehrabad Airport to protest Le Drian's visit.
The 2015 accord between France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the US gave Iran relief from economic sanctions in return for curbs to its nuclear program, allowing Tehran to talk trade with Europe for the first time in years.
But so far the deal, pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani's headline achievement, has yet to bring the economic benefits many Iranians yearn for. That has slowed Rouhani's efforts to engage with the West, opposed by allies of Iran's top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
France has been quick to restore trade ties. Planemaker Airbus, oil major Total and automobile manufacturers Peugeot and Renault have signed deals, all at risk if Trump walks out of the accord.