Europeans: 'Obama administration put more pressure on its friends in the negotiations than on the Iranians'buyer's remorse about the sellout to a nuclear Iran.
French President François Hollande ran into a difficult question late last month about war and Iran. It’s time now to pay attention to his answer.
Invited to dinner by members of the French Presidential Press Association on July 27, the president was asked if he went along with the contention of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, later voiced by President Barack Obama, that war would inevitably follow rejection by the U.S. Congress of the nuclear deal between the great powers and Iran.
Mr. Hollande, whose full-page photo on a French magazine cover this week is headlined The Anesthetist, doesn’t do alarmisme. He didn’t assert, as Mr. Obama so often has, that war is the single alternative to the Iran nuclear agreement. No way.
My recollection of Mr. Hollande’s response—jibing with that of the journalists seated to my left and right that evening—is that he said disapproval by Congress meant new “uncertainty,” and uncertainty in the Middle East could sometimes mean war.
A month later, this much is clear about the approach of the other European parties to the deal: Neither German Chancellor Angela Merkel nor U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron have made an explicit link between Congress’s possible September vote against the agreement and anything resembling the Obama administration’s notions of instant cataclysm.
After initially nodding “yes” to the deal, the French have partially reverted to form reflecting their traditional hard-nosed antinuclear proliferation position. It’s OK in Paris to acknowledge that the accord is an oversold mediocrity, and its character nonhistoric. Mr. Obama’s notions of co-opting a suddenly tranquilized Iran to embrace the Forces of Good in the Middle East can get characterized as naive. American sanctions experts say big French banks have informed them they are in no rush to return to Iran.
Citing the profound weaknesses of an agreement that allows controls over Iran to end after 15 years and the mullahs to keep an absurdly high number of centrifuges, a French official told me he graded the accord as C-plus. He expressed concern about America’s willingness over time to continue paying the enormous expense of its vast Iranian surveillance operations. And he also said that the deal’s concessions to Tehran made a pressing reality of Saudi Arabia’s quest for an atomic weapon.
One of the toughest of the country’s hard-nosed security experts, Bruno Tertrais, wrote last month in the Canadian newspaper Le Devoir that “with pressure from the Obama administration” European negotiators’ original intent deteriorated from a rollback of Iran’s nuclear ambitions to their containment.
Camille Grand, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research—a think tank with a reputation for telling truths the French government might prefer to avoid—told me how this slippage had come about. “From 2013 on,” he said, “the Americans gave the impression they wanted the deal more than Iran did. The administration put more pressure on its friends in the negotiations than on the Iranians.”
For now, even if there are French critics, there is no political or governmental force actively fighting the deal. It creates the impression of a French security establishment that will shoot from the cover of the sidelines, yet isn’t mobilized to urge that the agreement be renegotiated.
But shooting from the sidelines can still have an effect. Consider the recent ado about reports that Jacques Audibert, Mr. Hollande’s national security adviser, told a U.S. congressional delegation to Paris in July that France, while supporting the deal overall, would view a move by Congress to block the deal as manageable without causing a break between the U.S. and Europe. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat, described the conversation later. Although the French denied her account, her colleagues on the delegation affirmed it—and why would she concoct a story so inconvenient to a president of her party anyway?
So how come didn’t France lie across the tracks to block the accord? My explanation:
Because an economically nonperforming President Hollande couldn’t say “no” to French industry wanting a shot at new Iranian contracts. Because France no longer musters the international political levers to shoulder splendid isolation. And because it would not assume the cost of being regarded as Benjamin Netanyahu’s single objective ally.
And now, French buyer’s remorse? In theory, a bit. But not enough to try holding off on its own what France knows is a lousy Iran nuclear deal.Is anyone in Congress listening?
For the record, France opposed the 24-day wait period for inspections.
Labels: Barack Hussein Obama, France, Francois Hollande, Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran sanctions regime, Iranian nuclear threat, Jacques Audibert, John Kerry, Laurent Fabius, Loretta Sanchez