Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) President Macron has said he will travel to Iran in 2018, potentially becoming the first French president to travel there since President Valerie Giscard d’Estaing visited the country in 1976. He has been invited by President Rouhani.
To prepare the ground his Foreign Secretary Jean-Yves Le Drian is to visit there in the next few weeks. If he is successful in arranging a visit he will be the first major Western Head of State to visit the country since the fall of the Shah in 1979.
However, like other European leaders before him, he is finding out just how difficult it is to keep on the right side of the United States and at the same time conduct a sensible independent foreign policy. France has important business interests in Iran notably with Total Oil and Peugeot cars. On the other hand, the French also have a favorable balance of trade with the United States and depend on them militarily in West Africa in particular.
Thus, Macron has said the US decision ‘will not put an end to the Iranian nuclear accord and that together all the parties in France and its European partners will continue to meet their commitments.’ Rouhani has in his turn assured Macron that Iran in turn ‘will continue to carry out its commitments’ in the nuclear accord.
However, the French leader added that it was necessary to have a dialogue with Iran on other strategic issues including Tehran's ballistic missile program and stability in the region. He slipped a comment into a speech in the United Arab Emirates that indicated he believed the allegation that Iran was recently behind the guided missile fired at Riyadh Airport by Houthis from Yemen and raised the prospect of possible sanctions. Thereby currying favor with the United States and their Gulf allies, his hosts.
The allegation is verging on the ludicrous as Macron must well know. The blockade of Yemen makes the smuggling of missiles into the country virtually impossible, even if Iran wished to do so. Their support for the Houthis in Yemen has been grossly exaggerated in Western circles. Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that the Houthis have their own stock of missiles and are capable of modifying them to reach Riyadh without Iranian help.
It is a transparent attempt to follow an independent line on the nuclear agreement with Iran and at the time satisfy the United States that he is on their side too by raising the ballistic missile issue. This is not an easy or dignified diplomatic posture to maintain. President Trump, who has been attacking the Iran deal since before he was elected in November last year, called the nuclear deal ‘one of the worst’ in US history, and warned America could leave it ‘at any time’. Equally the Iranians have no intention of giving up their ballistic missile program.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry has sharply reminded the French leader that the development of ballistic missiles is not negotiable, expressing regret over Macron’s remarks. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said Iran expects France not to be swayed by the allegations raised by some Persian Gulf states with the aim of tarnishing the image of the Islamic Republic.
In reaction to the comments made by the French President about Iran during his tour of the Middle East, Qassemi said Tehran expects Paris to remain ‘realistic, fair and farsighted’ when it comes to the sensitive developments in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf regions. ‘France’s officials including its president are well aware that levelling false accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran stands in stark contradiction to the realities of the Middle East over the past decades,’ he said in a Saturday statement.
‘We maintain that France should responsibly convince its regional allies in the Persian Gulf region to adopt sensible policies and approaches far from excitement.’ He stressed Iran has repeatedly told the French officials that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not renegotiable and Iran doesn’t allow the other sides to annex other issues to it. ‘France is fully aware of Iran’s firm stance towards its defense capabilities, viewing it as non-negotiable,’ he added.
The spokesman then drew attention to the situation in Yemen where, despite all its claims to support humanitarian values France, tacitly at least, supports the brutal bombardment and naval blockade by the Saudi lead coalition. He added the UN reports on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen should not fall on deaf ears claiming ‘So far, we have witnessed a meaningful silence by the international community towards Saudi Arabia’s crimes in Yemen and its airstrikes against civilian areas in the war-torn country, killing recklessly the innocent women and children.’
‘It goes without saying that the Saudis take the international silence as a green-light to go ahead with their inhumane moves in Yemen,’ he added. He stated that Iran expects the French government to adopt tangible measures including pressurizing its allies into immediately stopping their war and bloodshed in Yemen in order to establish ceasefire and restore peace and stability to the country.
The Iranians are in effect asking the French President to make up his mind whose side he is on, something he is loath to do, wishing to retain close relations with both Washington and Teheran both at the same time.