Soft power did not prevent failure of Le Drian’s mission in Tehran

Iran is thought to have one of the largest missile production programmes in the region.
Sunday 11/03/2018
Iranian President Hassan Rohani (R) welcomes French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the start of their meeting in Tehran, on March 5.     (Iranian Presidency Office)
Mission Impossible. Iranian President Hassan Rohani (R) welcomes French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the start of their meeting in Tehran, on March 5. (Iranian Presidency Office)

TUNIS -Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, risking further international sanctions, remained intransigent in the face of European entreaties to limit his country’s missile programme and scale back support for its proxy militias in the Middle East.

The latest failed attempt was by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who visited Tehran on March 5 intending to reaffirm European support for the 2015 nuclear agreement that loosened sanctions on Iran in exchange for scaling back Tehran’s uranium enrichment programme.

His visit coincided with a Tehran exhibit of ancient artefacts loaned by France’s Louvre Museum.

Khamenei did not seem impressed. Speaking after Le Drian’s departure, Khamenei was quoted by his official website as saying: “European countries come (to Tehran) and say we want to negotiate with Iran over its presence in the region. It is none of your business. It is our region. Why are you here?”

Under the terms of the 2015 agreement, signed by the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Britain, China and the European Union, Iran was to curtail its uranium-enrichment programme for access to international oil and gas markets.

However, the Trump administration has consistently expressed misgivings about the treaty and called on Iran to limit ballistic missile production, halt its involvement in regional conflicts and open its military bases to international inspectors, provisions not covered in the 2015 treaty.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the accord if the deal is not altered to his liking.

Iran is thought to have one of the largest missile production programmes in the region, with some of its precision-guided missiles able to strike within the borders of its sworn enemy, Israel, and other countries in the region.

“There are ballistic programmes of missiles that can reach several thousand kilometres, which are not compatible with UN Security Council resolutions and exceed the sole need of defending Iran’s borders,” Le Drian told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper before leaving for Tehran.

“If not tackled head-on, this country risks new sanctions.”

After Le Drian’s visit, a senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said Tehran had increased its missile production three-fold, the Fars news agency reported, without giving a time frame for the increase.

Anticipating further sanctions after Le Drian’s departure, Iranian President Hassan Rohani told the Tasnim News Agency that Iran should be ready for any “unfavourable” consequences of hardening international attitudes. However, he said negotiations and diplomacy remained the best options for maintaining the 2015 treaty.

“Remaining committed to the accord would prove to the world that the negotiation and diplomacy is the best way to solve problems but the collapse of the deal means that political talks are a waste of time,” he said.

“Our weapons are meant to promote peace, strengthen stability and security and to prevent others from invading our country. No one should be concerned about Iran’s weapons and missiles.”

Khamenei described the presence of US military forces across the world as “malicious and seditious.” He said Iran would not seek the permission of Washington in maintaining its foreign policy. “We will negotiate with America when we want to be present in America,” he said.

Iran has consistently challenged US allies and objectives in the region, frustrating both Israel and regional rival Saudi Arabia. Further to its active role within the Syrian war and support of Yemen’s Houthi rebels against the Saudi-led coalition, Iran is thought to have deliberately antagonised Israel, playing a critical role in the downing of one of the country’s F-16 fighter planes on February 10.

Tehran’s funding of Lebanon’s militant and political group Hezbollah has also fuelled Western concerns about Iran’s behaviour.

Iran has been actively supporting Shia militias in Iraq amid signs of unending political encroachment.

Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami was quoted as saying by the Tasnim News Agency that Tehran was ready to offer “military advisory and security” support to Afghanistan in that country’s fight against terrorism, a reference to the Islamic State (ISIS) and Taliban insurgents active in the country.