Vive la France!

Thanks to the French, the Islamic Republic will not, for the time being, get relief from the sanctions regime as it marches – nearly unhindered – toward nuclear capability.

November 17, 2013 04:58
3 minute read.
French President Francois Hollande and FM Laurent Fabius

French President Francois Hollande and FM Laurent Fabius 370. (photo credit: Reuters)

‘Sucker’s deal” is how French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius referred to the agreement that began to materialize in negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 a week ago.

Thanks to the French, the Islamic Republic will not, for the time being, get relief from the sanctions regime as it marches – nearly unhindered – toward nuclear capability. A historic security blunder was avoided.

The French are to be praised for demonstrating leadership. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s harsh criticism of the purported deal turned out not to be a lone voice. A warmer-than-usual welcome awaits France’s President Francois Hollande when he arrives this week accompanied by Fabius.

Fabius’s decision to break with the consensus, break the P5+1’s informal rules and go public with his reservations regarding the interim deal, is a sign of the times. Not too many years ago – particularly under the administration of president George W. Bush – it was a decidedly hawkish and interventionist US that led international coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, US President Barack Obama, in part out of deference to a war-weary America, has scaled back his country’s dominant role in the region.

The US refrained from taking the leading role in the military intervention in Libya, preferring instead to build a broad coalition. Though the Syrians crossed his redline with regard to the use of chemical weapons, Obama refrained from ordering an air attack and then failed to receive congressional support to do so. And the US has cut its aid to Egypt.

America seems to be less than willing to maintain pressure on Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry has asked US lawmakers not to increase sanctions against Islamic Republic. And the US has failed to maintain a credible military threat against Iran at least since the Islamic Republic’s new president Hassan Rouhani launched his charm offensive.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin of the Institute for National Security Studies noted recently that Jerusalem is concerned acceptance of a nuclear Iran – also referred to using the euphemistic Cold War-era term “containment” – is taking hold in Washington.

It is in this geopolitical context that Paris has stepped in to ensure that a serious deal is offered the Iranians. A number of motivations might be behind the French decision. France, as one of the few nations with nuclear weapons, wants to retain its exclusive status and tactical advantage via anti-proliferation policies. France, after all, has long taken a hard line on Iran’s program, going back to the government of president Jacques Chirac. As part of a larger strategy to increase its influence at a time when the US is wavering, the French might be interested in strengthening relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations in the Persian Gulf that face big security threats if Iran goes nuclear.

Standing up to the Americans might win Hollande points among the French people. French pride was stoked by the thought that for the first time in a while – perhaps since Charles de Gaulle’s era - instead of the Americans it was the French who were doing the leading.

Whatever the motivation, the French were right on target.

The semi-official Fars news agency in Iran criticized the “destructive roles of France and Israel” for the failure of negotiations and ran a caricature of France as a frog firing a gun. “By shooting a gun he feels important,” said the commentary.

US Sen. John McCain tweeted that Paris “had the courage to prevent a bad nuclear agreement with Iran. Vive la France!”

We share McCain’s take on the situation.

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