A series of conversations between top American and French officials, including between President Obama and French President Francois Hollande, have seen Americans engage in behavior described as bullying by sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
The disagreement over France’s cautious position in regard to Iran threatens to erode U.S. relations with Paris, sources said.
But according to Foreign Policy Magazine, France will not be bullied:
The word from Paris has been equally unsupportive of the U.S. push for a deal. “France wants an agreement, but a robust one that really guarantees that Iran can have access to civilian nuclear power, but not the atomic bomb,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared on March 21.
Not quite. France’s policy is dictated by a set of principles with regard to nonproliferation that have guided administrations on both sides of the political spectrum in the talks with Tehran since 2002. And the tension with Washington is just one expression of a larger disagreement between the two countries over U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
Things have been brewing for a while, France feels the Americans are keeping France and the other negotiating partners in the dark about the talks. Rather it being P5+1, it has really been the U.S. only talking to Iran. And the French negotiators a complaining in private the Americans are trying to “force them to make concessions on issues like the number of centrifuges allowed or sanctions in order to reach an agreement by March 31, a deadline that the French, like many of the White House’s critics back home, see as artificial and counterproductive.”
The French ambassador to the US tweeted his displeasure at the beginning of March, “We want a deal. They need a deal. The tactics and the result of the negotiation should reflect this asymmetry.”
Apparently the French and the Americans disagree on almost everything, ‘The lifting of sanctions, the scope of inspections, research and development capacities, the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to maintain, and how long the agreement will last.” Thankfully they do agree on the shape of the table.
A central concern is “breakout time” (the minimum time needed to make weapons-grade uranium). According to current reports, a deal would ensure that Iranian breakout time would be moved back to one year. French negotiators want to ensure that Iran’s agreed-upon breakout time will last the entire duration of the deal — and after. They also want a deal that lasts as long as possible. “Ten years is short when you talk about nuclear issues,” one diplomat said.“Ten years is short when you talk about nuclear issues,” one diplomat said.
Another diplomat summed it up: “We spent more than 10 years talking, slowly setting an architecture of sanctions, of pressure, defining principles of negotiations. Once we dismantle this, it won’t come back up. So we better get the best possible deal.”
Perhaps this argument is premature. Earlier today I spoke to Dr. Olli Heinonen, Former IAEA Deputy Director General, former chief of safeguards at the agency. According to the doctor the deal as now configured would not create a one-year breakout time.
“When I look from the parameters which I know, it looks to me that if there are 6,500 centrifuges remaining, installed and in operation – it might be difficult to get it to one year or longer, the breakout time. It will be clearly below. And then we have to add all the uncertainties, the unknowns.”
And worse yet it will be hard for the IAEA to monitor the deal because the can’t verify what Iran has now:
“The IAEA has not been able yet to verify the completeness of Iran’s declaration. So we don’t know at this point of time whether all the uranium which is in Iran is really subject to IAEA verification. Same is with the enrichment program. They have produced a lot of centrifuges. Are these all the centrifuges installed and operating, which we see in Natanz? This, together with the military dimensions to understand what were the activities on high explosives, missile reentry vehicle which Iran seems to have done. All these 3 items – nuclear material inventory, all the centrifuges, and this PMD – they form a baseline for future monitoring.”
Beyond the American/French the French want the nuclear deal to be the first step. France has always been on the front lines when it comes to stopping Iran’s nuclear program because stopping nuclear proliferation has always been a chief component of their foreign policy:
France has consistently been the toughest member of the European Union when it comes to Iran, going back to the administration of President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. Paris has consistently advocated for firmer sanctions and EU sanctions, beyond the scope of United Nations resolutions. In 2012, France was notably responsible for convincing Europeans to ban the import on oil products, despite the objections of many countries.
Nuclear deterrence has been central to France’s foreign policy ever since Charles de Gaulle’s presidency, a pillar that has been largely bipartisan. And just as nuclear doctrine has stayed remarkably stable through the years, so have the officials in charge of conducting French nuclear strategy and proliferation policy, regardless of who is in the Élysée.
In fact, some of the most preeminent positions in the French diplomatic and defense establishments are occupied by career civil servants trained as nuclear strategists who have worked on Iran for over a decade. This close-knit group of diplomats includes, among others, Araud, as well as Jacques Audibert, Hollande’s diplomatic advisor, both of whom previously served as France’s chief nuclear negotiator with Iran.
But policymakers in Paris might not trust the Americans much, either — and not just when it comes to the nuclear negotiations. French officials no longer hide their dismay at many of Washington’s policies in the Middle East.
Numerous French diplomats suspect that the United States, now that it is less dependent on Gulf oil, “pivoting” to Asia, and focused on fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is on the verge of profoundly reshaping its traditional alliance system in the Middle East, moving from a system where Iran replaces Saudi Arabia as the central pillar of regional stability. This especially concerns the French because they have built strong political and defense relationships with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates in recent years.
The real key behind the French suspicion of Obama is similar to that of Israels:
Now the view from Paris is of a Washington that seems to lack empathy and trust for its longtime friends and partners — more interested in making nice with Iran than looking out for its old allies.