Why France Played Wrong Tune in Nuclear Talks?
Monday, November 11, 2013
Interview with Abdolreza Faraji-Rad
University Professor of Geopolitics & International Analyst
By: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Q: Why France is seemingly against a nuclear agreement [between Iran and the world powers] and why the French government, which used to play a positive role in Iran's nuclear talks during past years, is currently playing a negative role?
A: You cannot say that the French government has regressed from being a positive element into a negative element in nuclear talks. The French government, from the very outset of Iran's nuclear case, was against Iran's nuclear activities. During the time that European foreign ministers [known as the European troika of France, the UK, and Germany] interacted with Iran, France was naturally taking a position which was similar to the position adopted on Iran's nuclear issue by other European foreign ministers. However, since eight years ago, when the administration of the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was elected and the Iranian administration also changed – that is, about eight years ago –, France has been taking a tougher stance on Iran's nuclear energy program. We have traditionally more problems with the Socialist governments in France. Therefore, the election of [Sarkozy’s successor and new French President] Mr. [Francois] Hollande will probably increase problems that Iran has had with the French government. But why France, as a member of the P5+1 group of world powers – comprising the US, the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – is taking the toughest stance on Iran's nuclear issue? Perhaps, two reasons can be given for this situation. The first reason is France’s concern about the participation of the United States as the leader in negotiations with Iran. The French politicians are concerned that the foreign ministers of Iran and the United States may engage in bilateral talks through which the two countries would achieve certain agreements which will boost the influence of the United States on Iran's economy in the first place. This will restrict the maneuvering room for the French companies, in general, while reducing the influence of the European countries on the Islamic Republic, in particular.
Q: If this were the case, Germany should have been also concerned about such a possible agreement. Germans, on the contrary, have been showing support and….
A: Looking back to history of Iran-Germany relations, we will see that Germans have generally had fewer problems with Iran. Also, following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Tehran and Berlin have maintained a suitable level of economic cooperation. On the other side, Germany is an ally to the United States while France and the United States are strategic rivals. Of course, under the rule of [the former French president] Mr. Sarkozy, the cooperation between France and the United States was more positive. However, at other junctures, Paris and Washington have been strategic rivals. The second reason for the opposition of France [to a nuclear agreement with Iran] is about France’s sphere of influence. Due to their colonial past, the French sway high influence over the Levant region – which consists of the present-day Syria and Lebanon. However, the increasing influence of Iran in both Lebanon and Syria has been to the detriment of France. Therefore, they consider Iran as a strategic rival in that region and, to be realistic, they have already lost their ground both in Syria and Lebanon, to Iran. This is why the French politicians want Iran nuclear issue as well as the current differences between Iran and the West to remain unresolved. In this way, they aim to further weaken Iran – by taking more points from the Islamic Republic – in order to make up for great advantages that they have already lost in the region and reclaim, at least, part of their past sphere of influence.
Q: Don’t you think that France’s effort to gain more advantages is influenced by the Israeli lobbies?
A: This is exactly true. Just have a look at the recent remarks made by the prime minister of Israel [Benjamin Netanyahu]. Although the French politicians apparently do not repeat Netanyahu’s remarks, there is a certain level of coordination behind the scenes between the Israelis and the French. I even believe that such coordination exists between the French officials and the radical politicians in the United States. The US administration – considered separate from the Senate and the Congress – actually seeks an agreement with Iran. They believe that stability should be restored to the Middle East because, otherwise, the regional interests of the United States will be at stake. The US administration is of the opinion that its allies in the region have not been successful in fulfiling their duties. An example was the atmosphere created for Turkey the United States after Islamic movements started to sweep through the region. The situation in Syria and the failure of Saudi Arabia and Qatar [in toppling the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad] was another example. On the other hand, Washington believes that although Iran was alone in the region, it has been successful in meeting its interests to a large extent. Therefore, Iran is a regional power and they should learn to get along with it. On the contrary, there are certain factions in the US Congress and the Senate, in addition to pro-Israeli lobbies, which believe that Iran is still a major threat to the US interests and should be handled accordingly. The minimum they seek is to make Iran give up its uranium enrichment activities, which will both appease Israel, and put their own minds at ease. In the meantime, France has been working with these two groups. I mean, a single front has been formed by France, the UK, and the radical factions in the United States. Of course, at certain junctures, the British government has been running this show.
Q: Of course, the UK has also indicated its support [for an agreement with Iran].
A: The British government has played the same game before. One day it turned toward the US administration, and the next day, it took sides with France. The British government, however, is currently getting closer to the US administration. Therefore, it is quite natural for the French to display such behavior. I, however, believe that when the French see that the balance is in favor of other members [of the P5+1 group], they will have to become more coordinated with them.
Q: What losses France will possibly suffer in its relations with such countries as Germany and Britain, if Paris insists on continuing along this path?
A: It will certainly suffer losses. If Iran managed to strike a successful deal [with the world powers] over its nuclear issue, the natural consequence of such an agreement would be a tangible increase in Iran's regional clout. This means that Iran will be playing a more influential role with regard to the situation in Iraq and Syria. Tehran will even become more active in Afghanistan as well as certain parts of the Persian Gulf, including in Bahrain. Perhaps, the French government is not very sensitive about the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are very concerned about the Levant region. With Iran playing the role of a regional power and the West confirming that Iran is an important regional player, France will have less maneuvering room in the region. In the meantime, France will be facing fierce economic rivalry in the region from Iranian competitors. As a result of such a competition, France will not have the wide economic space it already had in the region through presence of such major French companies as [the oil giant] Total and the automaker, Peugeot. In that case, priority will be given to the American companies which can export better goods to the region, followed by their German, Italian and British counterparts. Those countries were previously faced limitations for exporting their goods to Iran, but French companies did not have to deal with such limitations. Therefore, the French officials are concerned both in economic and geopolitical terms because they see that their power and influence in the Middle East, in general, and the Levant, in particular, is on decline.
Key Words: France, Wrong Tune, Nuclear Talks, United States, Iran, Germany, Israeli Lobbies, Islamic Movements, UK, Iraq and Afghanistan, Faraji-Rad
Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org