Foreign Minister reports on talks in Iran

Foreign policy – Iran – Excerpts from the interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to CNEWS

Paris, 8 March 2018



Q. – Barely three days ago you were in Tehran, you met three of the most important figures in the regime of the ayatollahs, people who were a bit different from each other, and you [said], I listened to you saying there: “the meetings were encouraging but tough, with no concessions”; the impression was that you had a bust-up.

THE MINISTER – You have to talk to everyone, and you also have to talk to the people involved in weighty decisions in that part of the world, which is extremely dangerous. The French President regularly talks to President Putin and President Rouhani, but he wanted…

Q. – Even if it’s tough?

THE MINISTER – Yes, but you have to talk, you have to say things, you have to be clear.

Q. – But we’re told that when the ayatollahs were with you they were intransigent; and you, the seemingly inflexible Le Drian, what does he do? Did he feel…?

THE MINISTER – President Macron had entrusted me with several missions in Iran. First of all, a very weighty issue, namely the Vienna agreement. What is the Vienna agreement? It’s the fact that there’s an international agreement that makes it possible to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, because if Iran possessed nuclear weapons there would be proliferation which would be extremely dangerous for the future of the world in general and for the region in particular, because then other countries would want to acquire them and quite rapidly we’d have a risk of nuclear war. So we must stop that, and negotiations were conducted in 2015 to prevent that proliferation.

Q. – But did the Iranians tell you they were keen, like you, to maintain that Vienna agreement?

THE MINISTER – Today President Trump seems to be questioning his signature of the agreement, and I went to see President Rouhani to ask him about the long-term future of the agreement, which enables sanctions on Iran to be lifted and which therefore, indirectly, enables Iran to develop. And on this point there was a firm approach, which I welcome.

Q. – They say they’re complying with it.

THE MINISTER – Today they’re complying with it; they must carry on complying with it. I think I heard commitments from President Rouhani in this respect. He’s very committed to the agreement, which he regarded as a historic agreement. It’s important for the sake of the world’s security for it to be maintained.

Q. – So it mustn’t be touched?

THE MINISTER – It mustn’t be touched, it must be enforced, and that’s what we’ll be saying elsewhere too, it’s what President Macron will tell President Trump, it’s a dividing line between us…

Q. – He’s going to see him at the end of April.

THE MINISTER – He’ll see him in April.

Q. – Because Trump will speak around 12 May. Does this mean France may be something of a mediator on that occasion?

THE MINISTER – France will say what it thinks, and it will say in particular that complying with the treaty prevents Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and therefore contributes to the region’s security and the world’s security.

Q. – Did Mr Rouhani tell you that if there were a breakdown it would mean a resumption of the arsenal and of the building of Iran’s road to a military nuclear programme?

THE MINISTER – That’s what will happen if there’s a breakdown; everyone must be aware of that. If by any chance the Vienna agreement is broken, tomorrow Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, and then the neighbouring countries will do so too. And then there will be a risk of nuclear proliferation, and North Korea will say, “and why don’t I acquire them too?”

Q. – According to the Vienna agreement, the Iranians can’t use missiles with a range of more than 2,000 kilometres – i.e. the distance to Israel. Do you get the feeling, and are you worried, because they may have gone beyond those 2,000 kilometres?

THE MINISTER – In the meetings I had in Iran there were points of disagreement, points of friction, where I set out France’s position very clearly and where I questioned the Iranian authorities about their intentions, particularly in the ballistics field. The ballistics field means missiles, and there’s a kind of capability-building frenzy on Iran’s part to acquire more and more missiles…

Q. – That affects us; it’s our sovereignty.

THE MINISTER – …short-range missiles but also medium- and long-range missiles, which are then no longer defensive missiles but offensive missiles which can attack and are worrying. On the one hand there’s that, and on the other there’s the fact that Iran supplies missiles to non-state entities like Hezbollah and the Houthis. And so there are risks there of destabilization of the whole region. I let the Iranian authorities know that we’re worried about the risk and that they must contribute to the region’s stability in their own interests, and therefore that they must take a much more moderate position on their ballistic capabilities.

Q. – But they’ve remained quite inflexible on that point.

THE MINISTER – I said when I came back that there’s still a lot of work. We’re going to carry on talking, we must carry on talking, and we’ll carry on talking about this point, just as we’ll also carry on talking about Iran’s responsibility for a Syria settlement – it’s also a Russian responsibility – so that tomorrow those massacres and this humanitarian disaster we’re facing are stopped. (...)./.

Iran – Syria/nuclear agreement – Statements to the press by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs

Tehran, 5 March 2018

THE MINISTER – Ladies and gentlemen,

I came to Tehran at the French President’s request, to meet the Iranian authorities: the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, my colleague Mohammad Javad Zarif, and President Hassan Rouhani. The talks were lengthy, because I had five hours of in-depth discussions. Those discussions were frank. This meeting was important, in an especially tense regional context.

First of all, there’s the Syria situation, where there’s not only the risk of a humanitarian disaster but also the risk of a regional conflagration tomorrow. It’s a tense context because the agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme is disputed, and today it’s in question.

The Iranian authorities – in particular President Rouhani – let me know they were very determined to pursue the nuclear agreement and do everything to ensure it’s maintained. The Iranian authorities also conveyed to me their deep concerns about the humanitarian situation in Syria, especially in Eastern Ghouta, and expressed to me their desire to find a way of avoiding this catastrophe. They said they wanted every means to be taken to that end, in particular observance of the United Nations resolution.

Moreover, in the volatile situation the region is experiencing, I was able to highlight several questions we have vis-à-vis Iran.

First of all concerning regional crises, the role that Iran – which has the weight of a large country but also the intervention capabilities of a large country – wants to play in the various crises. We had the opportunity to discuss all these issues very clearly and unambiguously, with each of us clearly expressing his viewpoint.

I also had the opportunity to question the Iranian authorities about their idea of the ballistic programme.

I had the opportunity to convey France’s pressing concerns about these two issues. There again, there’s a lot of work to do. On the other hand, we fully concur on the Vienna agreement nuclear treaty, and we’ve also shown this, because we’ve abolished our sanctions and allowed trade relations between France and Iran to resume. So we must do everything to ensure that the agreement, which is historic, can hold.

On the humanitarian aspect, we’re also absolutely determined to help ensure that the crisis we’re seeing develop can stop. But Iran and Russia are in direct relation with the regime and they have the ability to intervene robustly. Apart from that, a lot of work remains.

Q. – On the issue of Iran’s hegemony in the region, what was the response from your contacts?

THE MINISTER – Let me tell you that there’s also still a lot of work. We had very robust, very free discussions, each expressing his point of view with, I think, a great deal of honesty but also clarity and firmness.

We’ve decided to continue meeting; we need to have talks in this period of crisis, we need to talk to everyone. We need to talk to Moscow, to Tehran; this is what we’ve been doing this week and what the President does very regularly. We’re in a very tense situation, it mustn’t lead to explosions, which no one would want or wants to see today. Stability must be restored to the region and this is France’s goal. It’s what we tried to communicate to our partners.

Q. – But everyone is sticking to their positions?

THE MINISTER – I’ve told you about the points we noted on the nuclear agreement, on the need for the international community to take action to avoid a military disaster. As for the rest, there’s still a lot of work to do.

Q. – On the ballistic programme, you said that Iran was running the risk of further sanctions; did you talk to the Iranians about this?

THE MINISTER – I said there was a lot of work to do.

Q. – You came here very ambitious; are you disappointed?

THE MINISTER – No, I came wanting to talk, with a concern to get across France’s concerns and positions. I think we had a fruitful discussion in that respect, with each expressing his point of view, and we’ve decided to meet again. In this period it’s necessary to talk to everyone; I did so in Moscow a few days ago./.

Published on 15/03/2018

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