Blame the French: How Paris Scuttled a Nuclear Deal With Iran


When Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Paris last week and held talks with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius on Iran's disputed nuclear programme, he probably never thought the main opposition to an Iranian proposed agreement to resolve its nuclear standoff, would come from the French three days later.

The US and its allies narrowed their differences with Tehran after three days of marathon talks in Geneva, but announced they had failed to produce an interim deal due to yet unresolved differences.

"A lot of concrete progress has been achieved, but some differences remain," European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Still hopeful

Also addressing reporters at the end of the talks was Zarif, who said, "We are all on the same wavelength, and that gives us the impetus to go forward when we meet again."

US Secretary of State John Kerry had a similar message, "There's no question in my mind that we are closer now, as we leave Geneva, than we were when we came, and that with good work and good faith over the course of the next weeks, we can in fact secure our goal."

With the next round of talks set for November 20 in Geneva, it was announced on Sunday, that the US Congress will push for a new round of sanctions on Iran, and also outline acceptable conditions for a deal with Iran now that the Geneva talks have failed.

The talks were very close to a final deal on Friday, but complications surfaced after France raised questions, saying it believed the proposal did not adequately neutralise the risk of Iran making a nuclear bomb.

Different viewpoints have been expressed on the motives behind France's intervention to prevent a deal, ranging from commercial and geopolitical interests, to just playing a role as a scapegoat for the US.

With respect to the P5+1, the French stance challenged efforts made by the group to sit at the negotiation table. There have been comments that by doing so, France, in fact, strengthened Iran's position because despite all problems, Iran has always been ready to attend the talks to settle the case, and hammer out a deal. However, US conservatives and Israel, in the previous rounds of talks, and now, in this round, France, have rejected diplomacy and continue to play the military confrontation, "all options are on the table", card.

Suspect motives

By taking a tough stance against Iran, France can appease the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, which fears Iran's increasing regional power. Its reward is more financially lucrative contracts and sales of more arms to these countries.

Francois Heisbourg, a former French official and now chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies has said that in domestic politics, "standing up to the Americans will increase popular ratings of President Francois Hollande's government", even though the Iranian nuclear issue isn't especially important to the French public.

There are speculations in Tehran that Hollande hopes that what he did at this round of talks, might lead to a stronger deal to be discussed during the November 20 Geneva meeting. This will surely make the hawks in Washington happy, too.

Conservatives in Tehran believe that France was playing its role within the group. It is believed that France was given the role of  a "spoiler" in an orchestrated move. Because of the distrust between Tehran and Washington would have grown deeper, had the US played this role.

Statements made by US and British officials put weight behind such belief. In comments on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Secretary  Kerry again downplayed the idea that France had undermined the deal, saying that the US too wanted more "clarity" about the terms of the deal and that the six powers remain united. 

Presence of the Israeli lobby in French diplomacy is another reason mentioned for Fabius' change of heart. It is also believed in Tehran, that the French intend to get more concessions. One should not forget that rivalry among big powers to take over global markets, has been the root cause of two world wars.

Economic concerns

Additionally, France's anti-Iran move has roots in the economy. The French are worried they might lose the vast and lucrative Iranian market. France has benefitted considerably from the sanctions placed on Iran. It has sold its outdated auto technology to the country, and has been active in the oil and gas sectors. The French know the US will have an eye-catching presence in Iran's market once the sanctions are lifted, so they intend to pave the ground, in the talks with the US, for having a share in Iran's significant market.

Kerry, Lady Ashton and Zarif have voiced strong optimism that a deal would be reached on the nuclear standoff in the next round of talks, and that would pave the way for a thaw in relations between Iran and the West. In which case, where would France stand, considering the fact that Iran picks its economic partners on the basis of its long-term interests?

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