Iran Wishing to See an Independent France

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tahereh Moghri Moazen
Expert on European Issues

The history of diplomatic relations between Iran and France is marked with many signs which attest to the existence of abundant commonalties between the two countries. Since many centuries ago, the level of relations between the two states has been usually determined on the basis of what the two nations knew of each other. As a result, those relations have persistently continued to thrive on a background of mutual literary, cultural and artistic interests. Therefore, the change in governments and dynasties has had the least impact on their relations. Even at the present time, many Iranian artists take part in various artistic festivals held in France regardless of political conditions governing the two countries’ relations. For French tourists, Iran is still a land of the shining Sun; a land with many secrets to discover and a birthplace for a great lot of mysteries which are no less amazing that the mysterious events described in the Arabian Nights.

Despite all the above facts, the ambiguous political stances adopted on Iran during the past few years have cast heavy doubts on all aspects of the two nations’ relations. Before the election win of [the new Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani, in the 11th presidential polls held on June 14, 2013, few think tanks in France were really focused on Iran. However, following his election, a powerful positive wave about Iran has been launched by many Iran experts in France and even some French officials have openly talked about a new window of opportunity, which they can use to improve relations between Tehran and Paris. At that time, many political experts both in France and Iran believed that due to the change in political conditions, the two countries will be able to improve the relations that, during the past years, were only looked upon from the standpoint of Iran's nuclear case. However, the approach taken to Iran by certain political currents in France, such as the Fabiusien current, which is supported by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius, has practically prevented correct understanding of political changes that have taken place in Iran and France. This approach has also prevented both Iran and France from taking appropriate advantage of the existing opportunity to mend fences.

A review of articles produced by political experts in France during the few months that have passed since the election of the new Iranian president will reveal that many of those experts have put the first and foremost emphasis on the need to pay attention to the economic interests that France will gain through relations with Iran. In their effort, they have tried to present a realistic picture of the impact of anti-Iran sanctions on the national interests of France as well as the Iranian nation in order to convince the French officials that they should strive toward improvement of economic relations with the Islamic Republic. This approach, however, is devoid of meticulous analysis of other aspects of the opportunity that has been offered to France to improve its relations with Iran. Perhaps, this is why the French government has continued to follow its past policy toward the Arab world and especially its policy toward Israel, both of which are one way or another opposed to the recent nuclear agreement clinched by Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers. This issue has led to an evident contradiction between France’s past demands with regard to Iran's nuclear case and its current approach to the Islamic Republic.

Many analysts actually believe that France started to take positions against the continuation of Iran's nuclear activities under the former French president, Jacques Chirac, at a time that Paris’ role in resolving the nuclear case of Iran had started to decrease. One of the reasons behind Chirac’s hardline policy on the Iranian nuclear case was the expansion of the former European negotiating group (that was known as the EU Troika comprising France, Britain and Germany) in order to be replaced with the P5+1 group of six countries. As a result of this development, France lost a lot of its influence on efforts made to find a solution to Iran's nuclear issue. On the other hand, the dwindling influence of France was also considered as a blow to the country’s international standing. Despite the above facts, France under Chirac had practically recognized the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program and, consequently the country’s right to enrich uranium on its soil.

Following the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as the French president [in May 2007] and since the policy adopted by the new French government on Iran was totally in line with the policy of then US Hawkish President George W. Bush, Iran was depicted in the national security and defense policy of France as a threat to the national interests of that country. Also, in a preemptive measure, Sarkozy wrote a letter to a number of the officials of big European powers, thus taking the lead for the imposition of new sanctions by the European Union against Iran. What France expected of Iran under the rule of Sarkozy was continuation of the nuclear talks with Tehran while urging Iran to bring more transparency to the goals it pursued through its nuclear energy program.

At present, following the conclusion of the nuclear agreement [between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers] in Geneva [on November 24, 2013], the way has been paved for Iran to address the concerns of France and the rest of the international community about the possibility of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through a legal and legitimate approach. Under the rule of [former French presidents] Chirac and Sarkozy, France was an active party to international efforts which were aimed at the adoption of international resolutions or sanctions against Iran. Therefore, under the present circumstances, Paris should try to come up with proposals and solutions for taking practical measures with regard to Iran's nuclear case. In this way, it would be able to help the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the task of promoting the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a result of which, Paris would be also doing its international responsibility for the establishment and protection of global peace and security.

High-ranking Iranian officials, especially President Rouhani and [Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif have endeavored since the inauguration of the new administration to address and solve a variety of issues in a short period of time. It goes without saying that in the field of foreign policy, Iran seeks to improve its relations both at regional and international levels. However, the dynamism in foreign policy, more than anything else, needs a specific kind of international ground to be provided and France, among all other countries, is in a better position to help Iran to do this. If such a measure is taken, the Iranian phoenix will get out of the diplomatic isolation of which it is currently suffering. On the other hand, the Hexagon (1), as a country that has been witnessing the decline of its traditional position in international system as a result of the rise of emerging powers, will be once more able to prove its strength and influence in international arena.

However, despite all the above facts, it is most unfortunate to note that recent measures taken and remarks made by the French officials have cast serious doubt on the future outlook of possible expansion of relations between Tehran and Paris. France’s efforts to obstruct Iran's nuclear talks with the six world powers, which made it very difficult for both sides to reach a conclusive result is an example of such dubious positions. Other instances include the French government’s unbridled support for Israel or sales of several billion euros worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, which can basically jeopardize and undermine peace and security in the region. Of course, French analysts, who are trying to pave the way for the improvement of relations between Tehran and Paris, have been working hard to justify all these measures. In doing so, they have mentioned France trying to retaliate the United States’ unilateral measures, the absence of a meticulous strategy in Paris vis-à-vis new political currents in the Middle East, or even France’s effort to stand out among other Western powers by appearing more strict on Iran as the main reasons behind France’s latest positions on the Islamic Republic. However, it is hard to believe that such reasons have become so important to France as to prompt Paris to take measures to obstruct the process of finding a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear issue or bring the nuclear negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 group to a standstill.

It goes without saying that under present conditions, the United States is actually trying to change its strategic focus from the Middle East towards other parts of Asia, especially the Far East. As a result, many French experts have noted that regional security and stability in the Middle East is heavily dependent on improving relations with Iran. They argue that in the light of the changing focus of the United States, there will be a lot of emerging opportunities to work with Iran in such areas as economy, agriculture, industries and security. Iran can even help strengthen the viewpoints held by the French government on such issues as nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region. This is also true about regional security where Iran's participation is thought to be a very important factor for the success of all efforts made to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis in Syria.

Inattention to these opportunities by the French government will be in conflict with that country’s effort to guarantee the realization of its long-term interests. Such an oversight will raise one question: even if the main reasons behind France’s approach to Iran is its alliance with Israel or regional Arab states, to what extent and till when the French “nation” will allow its officials to make decisions “in the name of France,” but with the ultimate purpose of protecting other parties’ interests.

On the other hand, France should be warned against a rising wave of negative attitude toward Paris in Tehran. The majority of the Iranian population is young and educated with an open mind full of various questions, which is also ready for accepting differences in viewpoints. The Iranian youths are as sensitive about political and historical issues as they are about artistic and cultural matters. This young generation is lending its support to moderation in political areas and looks forward to witnessing major changes in geopolitical positions taken by regional powers. However, despite the above facts, it seems that France is bent on establishing its role in the mind of this young generation as a country, which has stood in the face of the Iranian people under the most difficult conditions that the Iranian nation has experienced.

During the Iraq’s imposed war on Iran (1980-88), the government of France adopted a hostile position on Iran by taking sides with [the defunct Iraqi dictator] Saddam [Hussein]. Even during the past few years when an economic war has been waged against the Iranian nation by the world powers, France has been stubbornly taking part in all kinds of sanctions against Iran even at the cost of dealing blows to its own economy. Despite claims by the Western powers that sanctions against Iran are ideal, purposive and smart, they have practically put the highest degree of pressure on the Iranian middle class. Therefore, one question that has been regularly raised about the role of France in these sanctions: What factor actually made [the former French President Nicolas] Sarkozy totally forget about such French ideals as striving for the realization of human rights and the country’s Gaullistic independence at the cost of getting unquestioningly aligned with the outdated policies that the US administration followed under [former US President George W.] Bush?

At present, and in view of the approach taken to Iran by [French President François] Hollande, and [its Foreign Minister Laurent] Fabius, there is not much hope that France would be mentioned as a cradle of democracy and support for human rights during political debates that address the Iranian public opinion. The Iranian people, just like Mr. Fabius, pass their judgment about the French government on the basis of its actions. The human rights doctrine proclaimed by Bernard Kouchner or Bernard-Henri Lévy, easily ignores the norms of the international law by declaring wars under the guise of human rights in order to pave the way for foreign military intervention in all countries. Such a doctrine, more than anything else serves to cast doubts on the credit of the Syrian opposition groups that are currently fighting against the government of the Syrian President Bashar Assad. In the meantime, the Iranian nation has not forgotten that the French government never took [the former Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein to task for launching chemical attack and conducting genocide against his own Kurdish people in the northern Iraqi city of Halabjah. France is even the second country that has been playing host to terrorist elements of the Mujahedeen Khalq Organization who fought against the people of their own country.

It is quite regretful that the tunnel vision of the French officials is barring them from seeing the realities of the Iranian life and society. One of those realities is that from the viewpoint of many Iranian people, such issues as human rights and citizenship rights should serve to support them within framework of the country’s religious bounds. For this reason, making any change in those rights (which should be done inside, not outside, the country) will more than anything else depend on having a correct understanding of the normal lifestyle of the Iranian people in addition to good knowledge of the country’s geographical situation and religious tenets. From this viewpoint, it is only for the Iranian people as well as those who have good understanding of social relations in Iran to make a decision on whether a change in the status quo is necessary or not. The same viewpoint governs the fate of the country’s peaceful nuclear energy program, which the Iranian government is carrying out in order to meet the nation’s need for clean energy and reduce national economy’s dependence on oil revenues. This is an allegation which has been corroborated by many books and films as well as through remarks made by a great number of French businesspeople and experts who have been eyewitness to many concerns and beliefs of the Iranian nation. Let’s hope that a positive change in the attitude of French officials toward Iran will bring the political relations between the two countries back on the right track and the future would see more prosperity in these relations as well as numerous opportunities which will be offered by them.


(1) France is the largest country in Western Europe and is often called the Hexagon because of its six sided shape.

Key Words: Iran, Independent France, Hassan Rouhani, Laurent Fabius, Economic Interests, Sanctions, P5+1 Group, Geneva Agreement, EU Troika, Nicolas Sarkozy, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Middle East, Human Rights, Moghri Moazen

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*Photo Credit: Nameh News & Al Alam

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