In the wake of the French torpedoing of nuclear negotiations with Iran, Le Monde Diplomatique editor Alain Gresh writes that France’s foreign policy seems to have taken a decisive neoconservative turn, independent of the political party in power.
A must see film: Bertrand Tavernier’s latest movie, Quai d’Orsay (based on the must-read comic book of the same name by Abel Lanzac). It is an often farcical description of life in the French foreign affairs ministry, with a slightly over-the-top portrait of [former foreign affairs minister and later head of government]Domenique de Villepin. But what I want to focus on here is the final scene of Tavernier’s film (which is neither over-the-top nor farcical): De Villepin’s speech before the UN Security Council on Feb. 14, 2003 opposing the coming war in Iraq. A standing ovation greeted this brilliant speech, in a place unaccustomed to such displays of enthusiasm.
Little did we know that this would be the last time that France would follow the doctrine laid down by Gen. de Gaulle in the 1960s, charting an independent path, a path for peace, one with foresight. Since then, and in particular since the Sarkozy presidency, France’s foreign policy has been a long series of retreats: rejoining NATO’s integrated command for the first time since de Gaulle, building a closer strategic alliance with Israel, and shifting toward the American neoconservative position on Iran. The election of [Socialist] Francois Holland to the presidency has changed none of this. Here, as in everything else, the Socialists’ adherence to Sarkozian policies is striking.
For years now, Iran policy has been in the hands of diplomats who know essentially nothing about the country, and who see themselves as knights on some new cold war crusade: for them, Iran is the new incarnation of evil. These diplomats, very well attuned to the American neoconservatives, were caught flat-footed by the election of Barack Obama. They have since continued to sing the neoconservative tune, noisily proclaiming the present US policy as weak and conciliatory. Their approach is closely aligned with that of Israel.
Their hard line on Iran extends beyond nuclear policy: Paris has blocked Iran’s participation in the Geneva II negotiations under the pretext that the Iranians are helping the Syrian regime. A bizarre line of reasoning, since it is precisely those who are involved in the conflict who should be brought to the negotiating table. Would such a conference even be conceivable if it excluded Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are assisting the insurgents? We all remember where French diplomats’ hardline attitude got us on the Syria issue: a bruising debacle.
The lesson of that fiasco seems to have been forgotten however. Rumor has it that the president was unhappy with foreign minister Laurent Fabius’s handling of the Iran question, and has taken the issue out of the hands of the foreign ministry. But the outcome of the Geneva negotiations on November 7-9 illustrate the continuing negative role of France in the situation.
Iran’s latest proposals had brought an agreement within sight. The Russian, Chinese, and American foreign affairs ministers had joined the negotiators personally; likewise Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign affairs chief. But all the while, Laurent Fabius continued to issue his skeptical warnings.
After a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Mr. Fabius said that “important questions remain unanswered, especially regarding the Arak nuclear reactor and Iran’s stocks of enriched uranium.” On France Inter Radio, he said “as we speak, there is no certain way toward an agreement,” and warned of “a sucker’s deal.”
In the end, the negotiations collapsed; they are supposed to be re-launched in a couple of weeks. Western countries claim publicly that they are all on same wavelength. Which is not true, and off the record, numerous American and European diplomats talk of France’s harmful role, in particular pointing to the French insistence that Iran stop enriching uranium, a demand that everyone knows is unacceptable to Tehran (and which is only really demanded by Benjamin Netanyahu, who like Fabius has attacked the agreement).
Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council, who was present in Geneva, said on his Twitter account that Fabius “just made Kerry’s life a living hell,” and reported the words of a European diplomat who told him, “never mind the spin, we had a deal until the French threw a curveball. All day has been damage control.”
The Swedish minister of foreign affairs, Carl Bildt said in a Nov. 9 tweet that it “seems as if the most difficult talks in Geneva are not with Iran but within the Western group. Not particularly good.”
Examples abound, and they all confirm the new reality, which is that the France of today only charts a path independent from the United States by being even more hard line, even more neoconservative. It does so with two of its allies, Israel and Saudi Arbia. Fabius has said that Israel’s security fears need to be taken into account-remember that Israel possesses at least 200 nuclear warheads. And the Wahabbi monarchy, a competitor of Iran, deeply involved in the Syria conflict, is itself nowadays regularly consulted by Paris on the Iran question. Thus does France show its support for the Arab Spring.
19 Nov 2013