The Iranian nuclear situation has pulled powers from around the globe into the quagmire as world leaders search for a way to save the Obama-era nuclear deal. France is no different and it has struggled to coordinate a European effort to find common ground between Washington and Tehran. It was one of the signatories to the deal and has a vested economic interest in Iran’s success as both enjoy a mutually-beneficial economic relationship; France is the sixth-largest exporter to Iran and Tehran is Paris’ third-largest Middle Eastern customer.
Stay in Your Lane
Despite France being a party to the 2015 nuclear accord, US President Donald Trump views it as his problem to deal with and has voiced his belief that other powers such as France should limit their involvement. France defended itself by declaring that it does not need US permission to negate with Iran.
“France speaks for itself on Iran as a sovereign power,” said Jean-Yves Le Drian, French foreign minister. “France is deeply committed to peace and security in the region, is committed to deescalating tensions, and does not need any authorization to do so.”
Le Drian was responding to a series of tweets from Trump which targeted French President Emmanuel Macron and criticized his government for sending “mixed signals” to Iran.
“I know Emmanuel means well, as do all others, but nobody speaks for the United States but the United States itself. No one is authorized in any way, shape, or to represent us!” Trump tweeted.
Trump likely lashed out at Macron due to a report that he had extended an invitation to Iranian President Hasan Rohani to meet with Trump at the G7 summit next week. A French diplomat denied this report, however, and emphasized that bringing Iran back to compliance of the nuclear deal is a priority.
Macron and Trump have been at odds before with the US leader disagreeing with the political leanings of his French counterpart. Trump has attacked Macron on everything from tariffs and taxes to approval ratings and even loss to Nazi Germany in World War II. When he visited France for Armistice Day events, he chose not to attend a remembrance ceremony due to the rain while other world leaders still went.
In many ways, France represents one of the best hopes for a preservation of the Iranian nuclear deal. With the US and Iran currently refusing to meet, depriving the the situation of a most-critical discussion that must take place, the ball is currently in Europe’s court to somehow keep Iran beholden to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. While Russia and China are also signatories to the accord, they have been mostly passive as the deal has broken down, although both have spoken in complete support of Tehran. China is already occupied with the ongoing trade war with the US and Hong Kong protests while Russian President Vladimir Putin is focused on rebuilding Russia’s grip on former Soviet states.
European powers such as France and Germany are best poised to stabilize the state of affairs with Iran. Each wield strong political and economic clout and have relatively stable governments. In contrast to Washington, Paris and Berlin have stables full of seasoned diplomats rife with experience, whereas the Trump administration has completely gutted the US Department of State. After discarding decades of experience and in some cases not even replacing embassy staff, Trump has essentially rendered himself and a few advisors as the sole negotiators for the US with Iran.
As Europe sees itself as a possible savior in the Iran deal, so too does Iran. However, it views economic relief as key to restoring its nuclear compliance. So far, that support has been slow and limited to the launch of the INSTEX trade system whereby European economies can exchange certain goods with Tehran on a barter system. For it’s part, France is eager to boost INSTEX by working with any of the signatories to the JCPOA without set financial requirements. Sources have pointed to $15 billion already raised for a line of credit for Tehran, but French officials refused to verify those claims.
The back-and-forth between Trump and French officials was likely due to the false report that Macron had invited Rohani to meet Trump at the G7 summit. Given that the two leaders are not exactly on speaking terms at the moment, it is understandable that this idea would upset Trump and he is not particularly known for exercising restraint. France is, however, one of the best chances at bring Iran back to the nuclear deal by using a reasonable tone and attempting to provide economic aid. If Trump truly desires a new nuclear deal with Iran, he would do well to welcome outside help such as Macron’s government.