Iran nuclear deal isn’t dead, insists Foreign Minister
Foreign policy – Iran/United States/Syria/Russia/Italy/European Union – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France Inter (excerpts)
Paris, 23 May 2018
US/Iran nuclear deal
Q. – Your American counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a very hardline speech, promised to impose on Iran – I quote – “the strongest sanctions in history” if Tehran doesn’t submit to 12 draconian conditions. Is this threat acceptable?
THE MINISTER – We share Mike Pompeo’s concerns about the risks Iran is creating all over the region. We share a concern about its missile frenzy, which consists in working intensively to give itself the means of intervening against neighbouring countries, territories close by, with ballistic missiles. That is reprehensible.
We also agree with the United States on another point, that Iran has a hegemonic tendency vis-à-vis the whole region, and that isn’t acceptable.
But we disagree with Mike Pompeo on the substance and the method. We disagree on the substance because we believe that what was achieved by the Vienna agreement, which genuinely prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, is huge because the gravest danger posed to the security of the planet – especially the security of the Middle East area – is that a country may have nuclear weapons and use them.
Q. – The agreement isn’t dead? Are you saying this again this morning?
THE MINISTER – The agreement isn’t dead. I’m saying this extremely clearly: the agreement isn’t dead. There were several signatories to the agreement; the United States has pulled out; France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia are still part of it.
So we disagree on the substance because that step towards non-proliferation is an absolutely huge step forward, which must be respected. It’s an achievement which must be upheld.
We also disagree on the method, because we believe that the package of sanctions which is going to be organized against Iran isn’t going to promote dialogue; on the contrary, it’s going to help increase the presence of conservatives in Iran and make them more powerful. This will weaken President Rouhani, who wanted to negotiate and who achieved this outcome. In the end, this posture risks putting the region in greater danger than it is today. So we disagree on those points.
French companies in Iran/US sanctions
We’ve also got another problem, which has just been discussed: the security of our companies and the capacity for all areas of business to give Iran the compensation it can expect for having abandoned nuclear weapons. This was the key issue in the Vienna agreements.
Q. – Regarding the companies, after Total, Engie has announced it is stopping its activities in Iran for fear of American sanctions. Do you understand these decisions?
THE MINISTER – They’re anticipating what they believe will be tomorrow’s reality. We – when I say “we”, I mean the Europeans – are wholly opposed to these measures. They’re what are called extraterritorial measures.
Q. – But why then are we bowing to these American diktats?
THE MINISTER – We aren’t. A few days ago the Europeans had a meeting, then there was a meeting in Sofia of the heads of state and government of the European Union, which made clear its wishes and its determination to ensure that businesses working with Iran are protected as much as possible, because we haven’t left the agreement and we want to honour it.
Q. – Isn’t the reaction too weak? It’s all very well saying “we dispute, we condemn”.
THE MINISTER – We’re not doing just that.
Q. – François Hollande said yesterday: “if the United States imposes sanctions on European companies, Europe must have the courage to reciprocate”; that we impose sanctions on American businesses. Isn’t that feasible?
THE MINISTER – We aren’t just protesting. We began by asking – and this is about asking for the law to be respected – for businesses which have lawfully invested in Iran since the Vienna agreement to be able to continue investing, for them to be respected, which in layman’s terms is called “the grandfather clause”.
And then we decided to implement a measure which allows European businesses operating in Iran to be given safeguards. It’s a financial mechanism which makes investments immune and not dependent on the dollar or measures or sanctions taken by the United States. (…)
Q. – Does that mean, if I have a French company, that I could do business in euros with Iran, yes or no?
THE MINISTER – It means we’re going to put in place a measure which will allow this and allow us to be excluded from the American sanctions, which are unacceptable. We can’t recognize as legitimate an American intervention which consists in saying: “you’re a company, not an American one, operating in Iran, but we don’t want you operating in Iran, so we’re going to impose sanctions on you even though you’re not American, because you’re trading in dollars”. That isn’t acceptable and the European Union has to take a firm stance. That’s what it has done.
Q. – When you see how things are getting heated between the United States and Iran, are there serious risks of war in the Middle East?
THE MINISTER – Yes, I think we’re witnessing a situation in which tensions are serious, and there’s major instability. And what’s been new for a while, for a few weeks, is the fact that the Syria and Iran issues are merging and there are risks of regional deflagration; we’ve seen this recently because, for instance, Iranian weapons based in Syria – not in Iran but Syria – struck Israel and Israel took retaliatory action in Syria.
Q. – So are you worried this morning?
THE MINISTER – All the conditions exist for a possible flare-up occurring, if by any chance an action is carried out, perhaps involuntarily or perhaps voluntarily. So in a situation of serious international tension, you have to keep your cool, you have to talk to everyone, and you have to try and begin peace processes in all the theatres concerned; that’s what we’re doing.
Russia/Syria/football World Cup
Q. – In St Petersburg tomorrow, Emmanuel Macron will obviously talk to Vladimir Putin about Syria. Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Middle East made a statement a few days ago that went unnoticed: Russia is asking all foreign contingents – the Americans, the Turks, Hezbollah – to leave Syria. Would you say that’s an encouraging first step?
THE MINISTER – We’re going to check it. The statement is vague enough to demand explanations, because it happens that there are many foreign forces in Syria. It’s true there are the coalition forces, American, Turkish, Iranian and Russian forces; there are very few French forces… (…) But it means a peace process must be embarked on concerning Syria, and today the peace process is in deadlock.
Q. – Does Russia currently strike you as mature?
THE MINISTER – Russia has no interest in the situation in Syria being poisoned – firstly because it causes it a lot of disappointment in terms of its international image, but also because it has its own terrorist risks, and that’s also one of our common points. There’s a convergence of interests between Russia and France, Europe, on the fight against terrorism. It [Russia] has no interest in maintaining a situation where it clearly sees that all the negotiation channels it itself has tried to establish are currently blocked.
We must restore the link between all the powers that are affected by Syria’s future and ensure there’s an agenda, under the United Nations’ guidance, that can be implemented. That’s what President Macron is asking for. Today, I note there’s only one proposal on the table for resolving the Syria crisis, namely the one made by President Macron, calling on those grouped around Russia, those grouped around the coalition, to get together to define an agenda for overcoming the crisis that will allow the humanitarian issue to be resolved first of all, but also the political issue.
Q. – Theresa May has announced that her government will boycott the football World Cup, which begins in Russia on 14 June. Will Emmanuel Macron be there?
THE MINISTER – I don’t know what Emmanuel Macron’s timetable is, although I know he likes football a lot. The issue about Russia is simple.
Q. – Should he be there?
THE MINISTER – That’s not the issue.
Is Russia in favour of us entering into a negotiation process on the major crises of the moment? We have a lot of disagreements with Russia. I think President Macron and President Putin will have occasion to talk about it tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. We have a disagreement on Ukraine, on intimidation procedures, on interference procedures, and we have a disagreement in the chemical [weapons] sphere. In short, we must have frank, but stringent dialogue with Russia. But we also have interests. Russia is a great country, a great country in our environment; Russia can be a partner. We must steer the discussions towards our having common positions on a number of issues, without concealing the significant disagreements we’ve observed.
Q. – You haven’t answered my question about football.
THE MINISTER – If the problem is whether or not we go to the World Cup, it’s relatively secondary.
Q. – It would be a symbolic gesture.
THE MINISTER – Yes, but there must be discussions beforehand…
Q. – So the decision hasn’t been taken…
THE MINISTER – Absolutely.
Q. – Italy, a founding country of Europe – after all, the Treaty on [the Functioning of the] European Union is called the Treaty of Rome – is preparing to appoint a populist, anti-European and anti-migrant government. Are you afraid this new government will weaken the European Union?
THE MINISTER – First of all, it’s the Italians’ choice; it must be respected. Italy is a democracy, it’s made a specific choice, there’s also a very specific government, because it’s a kind of conjunction of extremes that will be trying to govern. I note, however, that the President, Mr Mattarella, hasn’t yet given his agreement to the make-up of that government…
Q. – He’s taking an extra 24 hours.
THE MINISTER – We must respect Italy’s choice and work with this new government, even if we may be concerned about a number of announcements. We’ll have to work with this government in full clarity, and also with the demands of Italy’s membership of the Euro Area, and I’ve also pointed out that the two leaders, both of the League and the Five Star Movement, haven’t renounced Italy’s presence in the Euro Area, and that this entails rules – we’ll have to work with the Italians to see how we can implement them.
Q. – Are you worried?
THE MINISTER – I’m worried on the whole.
Q. – For Italy?
THE MINISTER – I’m worried about all the crises accumulating in the world, not only the transatlantic crisis that was mentioned earlier but the crisis in the Middle East, plus the European crisis; all these make up a situation where you have to keep your cool./.
Paris, 24 May 2018
Q. – What is France’s reaction following the disclosure by Iran’s Spiritual Leader of a list of seven conditions which the European powers will have to comply with if Tehran isn’t to reject, in turn, the 2015 agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme?
THE SPOKESPERSON – We’ve noted these statements made by Mr Khamenei.
As M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, reiterated on RTL on 23 May, “the agreement isn’t dead”. “A few days ago the Europeans had a meeting, then there was a meeting in Sofia of the heads of state and government of the European Union, which made clear its wishes and its determination to ensure that businesses working with Iran are protected as much as possible, because we haven’t left the agreement and we want to honour it.”
Keeping the Europeans in the nuclear agreement above all means that Iran has to continue strictly applying its nuclear provisions. At stake is regional and international security and the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Even though the Europeans want to stay in the agreement, this is not to ignore our concerns about Iran, particularly its ballistic programme and its direct or indirect military presence in the region. This is why we proposed establishing a comprehensive negotiating framework with Iran. We’d like Iran to understand the interest in having a cooperative approach.
France will continue discussions along these lines with its partners. It will be one of the items discussed during the President’s visit to Moscow. (…)./.