Iran Viewpoint: French Malfeasance In Geneva – OpEd


Malfaisance française. The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, who singlehandedly pulled off a negotiation impasse in Geneva after three days of “formidably difficult” talks between Iran and the world powers, ought to be haunted by these words — for good reasons. As confirmed by the Russian diplomats, without his nay-sayer involvement, the Geneva talks would have ended with a timely breakthrough in the form of an initial or interim agreement that would have created the necessary space for a more enduring long-term resolution of the Iran nuclear standoff.

As a result, France now has the honor of a national vilification in Iran, with aspects of the Iranian media accusing the French government of playing ‘bad cop’, albeit one that may have exceeded the limits, granted to a secondary player which is plagued with economic stagnation and decline of world power status, in light of this weekend’s report that the country’s credit rating had been degraded from “AAA” to “AA.” Not to worry, because on the same day, Mr. Fabius had a quick palliative in mind, i.e., playing l’enfant terrible of the “5 +1″ group that includes the bigger economy Germany, which deserves a UN veto power more than France by any stretch of imagination.

Indeed, France’s surrogate role, for both the Israelis and Saudis, in torpedoing a nuclear deal in Geneva may translate in tangible economic and financial gains, for a non-growth economy which has a projected .1 percent economic growth in 2013 and faced with massive spending cuts in 2014. But, by the same token, Paris’s desperation of exploiting a nominally “proliferation concern” issue for economic self-gain reflects rather negatively on the country’s sad and moribund state of affairs, resorting to ‘nuclear diplomacy to the rescue’.

The problem, however, is that the train of nuclear diplomacy has left the station and even US Secretary of State John Kerry admitted in his post-negotiation press conference that “significant progress” had been achieved and he was optimistic that with good faith, the “work can be done” in the near future, perhaps at the next Geneva round on November 20th – the scheduling of the next meeting so close to this round is clearly a good sign of steady progress toward a deal, one that would introduce certain nuclear concessions from Iran that are sequenced with the easing of Western sanctions.

A big question is, of course, what those sanctions’ reliefs put on the table consist of and whether or not the main energy and financial sanctions are included, or will be included as part of the Iranian-proposed “end-game?” Given the confidential nature of the on-going negotiations, there is no sure information on this matter and, as a result, speculations abound, especially in the hard-line Iranian media, which has raised questions about a one-sided deal favoring the other side.

Concerning the latter, the website has compared the pending deal to the disgraceful 1828 Russia-Iran Treaty known as Turkmanchai Treaty, which ceded a large chunk of Iranian territory to tsarist Russia, thus suggesting that Iran is on the verge of accepting a “nuclear Turkmanchai.” If so, then the French may have inadvertently saved Iran from a major embarrassment, so the argument goes.

But such internal criticisms appear to fall by the wayside due to a number of inter-related factors, such as the anti-sanction dynamism generated by any incremental deal that on the surface may appear to be lop-sided. Perhaps a better comparison would be Lenin’s 1918 Brest-Litovsk, which Lenin consented to following his keen understanding of the long-term benefits of the deal that could not withstand the test of time. In retrospect, Lenin has proved right and Russia as we know was able to regain the lost territories. This of course does not mean that Iran should entertain a “nuclear Brest-Litovsk” and my intention here is a limited historical analogy.

What then one is to make of the American “unipolar” suzerainty of the Iranian nuclear file, when reports, again corroborated by Russian diplomats, indicate that France meddled in and scuttled a deal-in-making? Perhaps this is why Kerry has begun to sing a growingly different tune from his press conference above-mentioned, now somewhat parroting Fabius’s sarcastic “fool’s game” by stating that the process can take months and “we are not blind.” May be not, but important thing is for the Western parties not to be blindsided by each other, as appears to be case with the errand behavior of Mr. Fabius above-mentioned, reflecting an oversized French ego hugely disproportionate with their actual power in the contemporary world. Little wonder, then, that according to the London Guardian, “some Western officials” were furious at Fabius, who apparently overruled his own negotiator, who had consented to the draft agreement put together by US and Iran. Net result: France has now singled itself out as the opportunistic spoiler that raised artificial objections in order to gain economic advantage elsewhere, i.e., a veritable evidence of its declining power.

But even by purely economic standards, Paris’s wreck role in Geneva does not make sense since a whole array of French energy and trade companies are lining up and eager to resume their presence in Iran, including the French auto companies that have lost huge revenues due to the sanctions. On the other hand, with respect to France’s nominal “proliferation concern,” Kerry meaningfully point out in his press conference that “every day we do not have a deal, Iran continues its enrichment activities.” He may have added that Iran would also inch closer to a nuclear weapons capability. After all, Western nuclear experts have readily admitted that by enriching uranium up to near 20 percent, Iran has already undertaken some 90 percent of efforts needed to acquire weapons-grade uranium. No wonder the issue of 20 percent is considered Iran’s “negotiation ace” which should be leveraged at the table, instead of bargained away at a relatively cheap price.

Of course, Iran has other related leverages, such as the threat of withdrawing from cooperation with the atomic agency, instead of simply enhancing it in light of the Tehran visit of IAEA chief Amano resulting in a new road map for cooperation. If there is no deal and sanctions continue, at some point Iran will inevitably ask why bother with the IAEA when its increased transparency is misinterpreted as a sign of its weakness? Crafting “counter-pressures” by Tehran appears to be necessary in order to play hardball with the Western powers that are clearly in no rush to end the unjust sanctions.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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