Robert Harneis –TDO – (FRANCE) France’s foreign minister visited Iran on Monday. He confirmed Europe’s support for the JCPOA nuclear deal that opened Iran’s economy, but at the same time followed the US/Israeli line opposing Tehran’s missile program and role in regional conflicts.

Jean-Yves Le Drian’s visit reflected French efforts to safeguard the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the five veto powers of the UN Security Council and Germany, known as the 5+1. U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to pull out unless three European signatories help “fix” the deal by forcing Iran to limit its influence in the Middle East and restrict its missile program.

The Iranian government has flatly refused to modify its missile program. The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, told Le Drian “Our missile work is... in line with our defensive policy, which poses no threat to any country”. The Iranian government believes that whatever happens and whatever they do, the Americans are set on regime change. They have also seen what happens to countries that disarm in the face of Western pressure notably Iraq, Libya and Serbia and have no wish to suffer a similar fate. They have strongly warned the French government against too close subservience to American foreign policy.

France is anxiously seeking to avoid becoming the jam in the sandwich between the Americans and the Iranians. “We’re not going to be Donald Trump’s envoys or Iran’s defense lawyers,” a French diplomatic source told Reuters. “We have our own concerns and will talk to the different sensibilities of the Iranian system to get our point across.”

The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted an Iranian armed forces spokesman as saying Iran’s missile development would “continue non-stop and foreign powers have no right to intervene on this issue”.

Hardline Iranian media reacted angrily to Le Drian’s visit with headlines like “The Rude Guest” and “Weapons of mass seduction”. Fars news agency said a group of hardliners gathered at Tehran’s International Mehrabad Airport and in front of Iran’s Foreign Ministry to protest at Le Drian’s visit.

The deal with France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the United States gave Iran relief from some economic sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear activity, allowing Tehran to trade with Europe for the first time for some years.

France has been quick to restore trade ties. Airbus, Total, Peugeot and Renault have signed important contracts, could be affected if the United States re-imposes sanctions removed under the agreement.

Tehran supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against anti-government forces, including groups backed by the West, and also backs Israel’s enemy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“France will continue discussions with Iran...but must find a way to restore stability in the region,” Le Drian told reporters, adding that Iranian leaders voiced extreme concern over Syria’s humanitarian disaster after seven years of war.

Le Drian also met with Rouhani, who told the French minister that Tehran would not be the first to violate the nuclear accord, according to state television. U.N. nuclear inspectors have repeatedly verified Iranian compliance with the agreement.

France says Iran has honored the deal but argues that Tehran may be violating part of the U.N. resolution enshrining the accord. The resolution ‘calls on’ Tehran to refrain from work on missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads, although this is not in the accord itself.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna said on Monday that a collapse of the nuclear deal would be a “great loss for nuclear verification and for multilateralism”.

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