France pips US, Britain to Iran goal line

When two countries of similar DNA get together, it becomes quite a tango. Both Iran and France are known for their pragmatism that at times gets close to opportunism. Unsurprisingly, the visit by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to Tehran on Wednesday drew much attention.

Fabius no doubt extracted the invitation out of the Iranians. Only the other day he had vaguely spoken about an early visit to Iran and by Wednesday he was already in Tehran. And he came armed with an irresistible invitation letter from President Francois Hollande to his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani to pay a state visit to Paris.

Rouhani and Hollande at UN

Rouhani and Hollande at UN

Fabius, of course, put on his best face by even penning a column in the Iranian press with the impressive title “Joint Measure for a Safer World.” Fabius wrote:

“The French have always been attracted by Iran, especially the heritage of this ancient culture and the share of this country in the history of science and thought… Today conditions are ripe for the improvement and promotion of exchanges between the two countries… The French technology and products are creditable and we know they are responsive to the demands of the consumers and Iranian entrepreneurs. From now on, new prospects will be opened for the two countries and we can proceed even farther in economic cooperation.

“France, which is a power of security and peace always, and even at the time when approaches were different, has had relations with Iran based on respect and precision. It is upon such a mentality that I travel to Iran … We will especially talk about issues related to peace and security in the Middle East … Iran as an influential country can play a positive role in confronting with these crises and disasters”.

Fabius was known till the other day as the “Iron Man Against Iran” who constantly threatened to derail the Iran nuclear talks with his hawkish demands. France held Saudi Arabia’s brief and in the process could wrap up highly lucrative business deals with Riyadh in the past year or two, running into tens of billions dollars.

Indeed, at other times it seemed the US and France played the ‘good cop’ and the ‘bad cop.’ But somewhere along the line, President Barack Obama cut loose to offer the famous “sunset” arrangement to the Iranians, whereby in a little over a decade Tehran will be a free bird to fly high in the firmament.

Fabius grasped instantaneously that Washington was bent on getting an Iran deal somehow. Overnight France’s priority changed from nuclear non-proliferation to engagement with Iran. France sized up that its interests lay in making the best out of a bad situation after all those years of self-portrayal as the most ferocious watchdog of the western world on the duplicitous Iranians.

Fabius made it to Tehran only ten days after Germany’s vice-chancellor and minister of economy Sigmar Gabriel did in a mission to advance German commercial interests. He is vastly outstripping his other western colleagues by a mile. His Italian or British counterpart is yet to buy the air ticket to Tehran.

Of course, the Iranians know that Fabius was coming wearing sackcloth and ashes. But they pretended not to notice. Even as a clutch of Iranian protestors held placards at the Tehran Mehrabad Airport – ‘AIDS, A French Gift to Iran’, ‘We Neither Forgive nor Forget’, ‘No Welcome to AIDS Lord’ – the establishment extended a cordial welcome to Fabius.

Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif noted that Iran and France, after all, have “age-old relations,” which will now “broaden”, paving the way for cooperation in energy, transportation and auto manufacturing sectors. Fabius disclosed that a high level French business delegation led by two senior cabinet ministers will be visiting Iran in September.

Oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh assured Fabius, “French petrochemical companies are among our old colleagues” and a new chapter of cooperation with Total will begin to develop Iran’s oilfields.

President Rouhani offered to Fabius that Iran is ready to help restore stability in the Middle East. But then, taking note of the ups and downs in the relations between the two countries, he added a word of advice: “We [Iran] are looking for proper relations in the future, but it is quite natural that all should take lessons from past events.”

France didn’t have a smooth relationship with Iran all through modern history. It is actually an accident-prone relationship that has been vulnerable to interference by Russia, Britain, Israel and the US. Most certainly, France will have to do a balancing act in the contemporary setting insofar as it has extensive business interests in the Arab countries, especially the GCC states.

The point is, the relations with Iran have not been a priority for France and it is improbable that Fabius’s visit signifies a reset of the calculus as such by recognizing Iran as the most important regional power in the Middle East.

France is positioning itself for a transformative period that lies ahead in the Middle East – and, engaging an important player like Iran would be the right thing to do in the emergent scenario. Iran, on the other hand, may not settle for a role in the same category as France’s close Arab partners, which would be less than symbolizing its power and security in the region.

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Categories: Asia Times News & Features, M.K. Bhadrakumar, Middle East

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  • don684

    That was quick .

  • Janek

    I have nothing against normalizing relations with Iran, but the French and German clearly show what the European Union is all about. It is all about the Germany and the France and only about the Germany and the France. The rest of Europe is just a footnote for them.

  • sensi

    Err, what does the EU has to do there and why would Germany and France go to Iran on behalf of the European Union? Were they chosen to represent “Europe”? Nope. European nations have varying foreign policies and that won’t changer anytime soon, while i fail to see your point.

  • sensi

    After more than a decade lost to fear-mongers, liars and propagandists (*), and billion lost pandering to these latter? Never too quick.

    (*) “U.S. intelligence agency officials interviewed by The New York Times in March 2012 said they continued to assess that Iran had not restarted its weaponization program, which the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate said Iran had discontinued in 2003” (wikipedia, Nuclear_program_of_Iran; NYT “U.S. Faces a Tricky Task in Assessment of Data on Iran”, March 17, 2012)

    “Netanyahu has been warning the world of Iran’s “imminent” nuclear threat for more than 20 years. In 1992, Benjamin Netanyahu, then a parliamentarian, warned that Iran was three to five years away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon. He implored that the threat should be, “uprooted by an international front headed by the US”. Twenty years later, Netanyahu still calls for action against Tehran, “before it is too late”. He claims that Tehran is “running out the clock”.” (Asia Times Online, “Rouhani’s outlook riles Israeli hardliners”, June 26, 2013)

    “Sarkozy tells Obama Netanyahu is a “liar”” (Reuters, Nov 8, 2011)

    “Leaked cables show Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim contradicted by Mossad” (TheGuardian, 23 February 2015)

    “Netanyahu told cabinet: Our biggest fear is that Iran will honor nuclear deal” (Haaretz, Apr. 12, 2015)

  • Janek

    Yes, it is true what you wrote: “European nations have varying foreign policies and that won’t changer any time soon, while i fail to see your point.”. My point was: who needs EU foreign affair commissioner and for whom they play this charade with EU, commissioners etc.. It is all fiction.

  • Janek

    They were saying the same thing about Irak and even with UN help. This tells you all.

  • Jay

    Time for Spengler to start cracking French jokes.

  • Jack Temujin

    Apparently Mossad’s false flag attacks in Muslim-tolerant country like France to sway public opinion against Iran and Arabs had little effects.

    Germany and France are also interested in maintaining cozy relationship with Russo-Sino alliance for their economic future.

  • Robert Ferrin

    The French have always been controlled by Israel to one degree or another probably thru their banking system, and always an opponent of Iran so if I was France I think I would be looking at a little to nothing coming from Iran seeing that Russia and China will be the main players for they never forget their friends nor their enimies.!!!

  • Che Guvera

    France is one of the most treacherous, opportunist and unethical European country. Iran should be wary of such country and shall give a diplomatic lip service. What I appreciate is that French brazeness to do business with both arch enemies i.e. Iran & Saudi. It reminds me that there are no permanent friends or enemies but only permanent interests.

  • Che Guvera

    French need the Arab Money but not the Arab People.