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France Loses Chance of Cooperation with Iran by Obstructing Nuclear Deal

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Seyed Mohammad Eslami
Expert on Middle East Issues

The foreign minister of France, Laurent Fabius, has so far managed to register his name in the history of developments related to Iran's nuclear energy program. For months now, Fabius has been known to Iranians as the symbol of obstructionist efforts during Iran's nuclear talks with the P5+1 group of countries. Just imagine how a diplomat can do things to make a whole nation hate him. In Iran, everybody still remembers the course of nuclear talks in the Swiss city of Geneva and the strong opposition of Mr. Fabius to an agreement with Iran. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Mr. Fabius’ recent remarks before the Foreign Relations Committee of the French parliament, which has been quoted by international media outlets, reminds Iranians of his past efforts in opposition to a nuclear agreement with Iran. I, personally, am in doubt that Mr. Fabius is happy to be playing the role of the bad cop in the political game that is going on in the course of Iran's nuclear negotiations. I believe that French diplomats can still change their role from a factor, which seeks to create negative balance in the negotiations, to a totally different factor which plays a truly positive role. To make this change happen, we must first see why out of all six countries engaged in nuclear talks with Iran, the French are the sole party that is indignant with the role played by Russia?

The background of cooperation between Iran and Russia for the development of Iran's nuclear technology dates back to many years ago. After French companies refused to fulfill the contract they had signed with Iran and finish construction of Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran commissioned Russian contractors to do the job. Iran has been, and still is, engaged in negotiations for the construction of a second nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr with Russia. Although there are not high hopes in this regard, the reality, however, is that if Western negotiating parties adopted a logical approach to nuclear talks with Iran as a result of which a final deal is achieved by all sides, other countries with nuclear technology apart from Russia would be able to sign contracts with Iran to cooperate with the Islamic Republic in the field of nuclear technology. Therefore, now that all negotiating parties are obliged to pay due attention to Iran's objective needs to nuclear technology in the coming years, Russia can claim its share before other players do. During the next eight years, Iran would need a minimum of 190,000 SWU (separative work unit) of nuclear capacity in order to be able to provide enough fuel needed for the annual operations of Bushehr nuclear power plant, Tehran Research Reactor, and Arak heavy water reactor. In the meantime, Russians are well aware that the day when Iran's nuclear case gets back on its normal track and the way is paved for other rivals to cooperate with Iran on nuclear technology, it would be logical according to the law of such rivalries to assume that Russia would not be necessarily the first in line for concluding new contracts with Iran. Even if they were the first in line, they would not certainly be players with exclusive rights in this area. Therefore, it would be quite logical for them to try to include a bilateral trade deal with Iran in the text of any possible comprehensive nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic during the present stage of negotiations. Such a bilateral deal should, of course, take into account Iran's national interests as well. Such a contract would be able to delineate Iran's objective need to nuclear fuel in clearer terms. On the other hand, such a contract would also send a message to the French as one of the most important rivals for Russia in the field of nuclear technology. The French would know that as long as Iran's contract with Russia has not been fulfilled and expired, they would not be able to consider Iran a market for the presentation of their nuclear products.

Yes, everybody understands Mr. Fabius’ concerns about this issue. But does he really think that opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran is the best way to meet the interests of the French companies? Isn’t he aware that such an approach will only serve to increasingly undermine the previously positive image of France among the Iranian people? We all know that the French have a difficult path to tread. Russia is not their sole competitor in the area of nuclear technology. When it comes to cooperation in developing industrial-scale enrichment on Iran's soil and later export of enriched uranium to other countries by Iran, the American company, Westinghouse, should be considered as the most serious rival for the French counterparts. Right now, this American company is supplying needed fuel to a great number of Russian nuclear power plants in Ukraine and the Republic of Czech.

We have a frequently quoted saying in Iran, which figuratively means that “if my food is not going to be cooked in the pot, then let nobody’s food be cooked in it too.” This saying reflects the main reason behind frequent obstructionist efforts made by the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius with regard to Iran's nuclear energy program. However, it is sure that instead of adopting such a disrespectful approach, he could have chosen other ways, which would have brought various negotiating parties closer together while helping French to meet their interests through nuclear talks. Perhaps, it is time for France to make efforts to rectify its unreliable past records with regard to cooperation with Iran's nuclear industry and think about how to succeed Russia in taking part in the construction of Iran's third nuclear power plant. If Russians are able to secure their share in the future nuclear market of Iran as of now, why the French should not be able to do the same?

Key Words: France, Iran, Obstructing Nuclear Deal, Laurent Fabius, Russia, Bushehr Power Plant, Industrial-Scale Enrichment, Iran's Nuclear Energy Program, Eslami

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