Tehran has given up on France and Europe in its showdown with US

Iran is particularly concerned by France’s rising role inside the European Union, for that may translate into difficulties for Iran.
Sunday 22/04/2018
Surface-to-air missiles are paraded past a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, on April 18. (AFP)
Bellicose vision. Surface-to-air missiles are paraded past a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, on April 18. (AFP)

France is trying to enhance its role as a leading European country and a major international power concerned with what goes on in the Middle East. This is reflected in Paris’s efforts to reduce divergences among European countries on issues such as possible new sanctions against Iran.

France is also trying to fill the void created by Britain’s exit from the European Union. At the same time, Germany is keen on limiting its involvement in international and regional crises. That is probably why it didn’t take part in the April 14 strikes against the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons sites even though it supported them.

Paris has taken an early start preparing for European Parliament elections in May 2019. It is trying to consolidate its capacity to play out its European ambitions by hammering its “Unified Europe” project.

Iran is closely monitoring France’s international and regional efforts. It is particularly concerned by France’s rising role inside the European Union, for that may translate into difficulties for Iran.

Indeed, France, a major world power, is inching towards US President Donald Trump’s positions on Iran, particularly regarding the nuclear deal, the ballistic missiles programme and regional ambitions.

Major signs of this alignment were France’s participation in air strikes against the Syrian regime, and its backing of a February 18 UN Security Council resolution proposed by Britain which condemned the Iranian regime’s failure to stop smuggling weapons and missiles to the Houthis in Yemen. The Russians vetoed the British resolution and a softer version lacking mention of Iran’s destabilising activities in Yemen was adopted.

Paris is all for increasing European sanctions against Iran, arguing that they may convince Trump not to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran. This point is expected to top the agenda of French President Emmanuel Macron’s meeting April 23 in Washington with Trump. Macron is actively seeking a European decision to that effect before his visit to Washington.

Finally, France has become one of the major powers supporting Iranian opposition abroad. The Iranian regime is continuously irked by the number. Tehran does not seem in a hurry to react to Paris’s moves. It prefers to wait until it can clearly make out the new strategic challenges both regionally and internationally, especially after the US decision about the nuclear deal and developments in the Syrian file.

At the European level at least, Tehran seems confident that France’s anti-Iranian efforts will fail. France’s moves to secure new European sanctions against Iran are being challenged by Italy, Austria and Greece. European foreign ministers failed to agree on new sanctions during their recent meeting. Some members refuse to jeopardise their own economic interests with Iran. Italy, for example, in 2016 signed trade deals with Iran worth $18 billion.

Paris itself has enormous economic interests with Iran. Shortly after the nuclear deal with Iran went into effect in January 2016 and the lifting of the international embargo, French companies Airbus and Total rushed to sign major trade deals with Tehran.

The only alternative to more sanctions is to pressure Iran into accepting a complementary agreement to the nuclear deal in which the shortcomings of the current agreement are addressed. Iran will surely reject this initiative because it is keen on keeping the ball in the United States’ court, especially when reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency indicate Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal.

Those signatory countries in favour of maintaining the nuclear deal with Iran argue that Washington would have to bear a very heavy international responsibility should it pull out of the deal. The United States would appear as an unreliable party and Iran might revive its nuclear programme. Washington would be undermining its capacity to tackle other nuclear cases, such as North Korea.

In any case, Tehran might not welcome Macron’s visit scheduled for this year. Iran seems to have given up on France and on Europe in general siding with it in its showdown with Washington.

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