Following a meeting in New York last year, French President Emmanuel Macron was the only global leader who almost managed to persuade US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to meet last September. Unfortunately, it never happened as both leaders failed to agree on whether US sanctions should be lifted before the gathering. Politico’s Rym Momtaz says this is one reason why he faces ‘tough odds’ in acting as a referee for the conflict.
However, Macron is the one European leader who could be pivotal in urging both the US and Iran to either reform the 2015 Iran Deal or succeed in persuading both nations to reach a completely new agreement. He is one of the few politicians who has a direct channel of communication with both Rouhani and Trump. When Tehran reacted to the US killing of Iranian General Qassam Soleimani, he phoned the Iranian leader to convince him not to respond too harshly towards the US President’s decision to eliminate the general.
Furthermore, the Iranian Government has invited France to assist with the investigation into the crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, which crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran Airport last Tuesday night, killing all 176 people aboard. In contrast, they have refused to cooperate with US investigators and have rebutted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claim that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.
The French President reassured Trudeau that he would ensure that France provides assistance in establishing the facts over the crash, although news reporters who visited the crash site said that nearly all traces of the aircraft have been removed, and Tehran has so far refused to share any information retrieved from the plane’s black boxes. This suggests that Macron could be taking some risks by cooperating with Tehran. If they fail to demonstrate full transparency during the investigation, it could be a humiliating diplomatic blow for the French leader.
Macron has also spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saudi Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman and Iraqi President Barham Saleh since Soleimani’s death. He is also collaborating with the UK and Germany on preserving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, despite Trump’s demands that these European nations abandon it. The French President is in a unique position of being able to bring all sides together.
If both Trump and Rouhani want to avoid war, they should abide by the four-point plan that the French President persuaded both leaders to support. According to the document, Tehran would never acquire a nuclear weapon and will seek genuine peace in the Middle East through negotiations.
In return, the US would agree to lift all the sanctions re-imposed on Iran since 2017. They will also have full ability to export their oil throughout the world. Although Tehran’s ballistic missile programme is not mentioned in the document, French officials said the language of the text was understood by all sides to mean it would be part of the negotiations.
Both Trump and Rouhani can claim victory if they agree to Macron’s four-point plan. The US President can inform voters during his 2020 campaign that he managed to stop Iran from expanding its ballistic activities, while Iran’s leader can claim he achieved full US sanctions relief.
With all the advantages the French President has in his favour, Macron is the only leader who has produced a sensible solution in the past to ending US-Iranian hostilities. He is the one politician with direct channels of communication to all sides. The only problem he has is that if Rouhani cancelled his meeting with Trump once, he can do it again if Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei convinces the Iranian President to do so. Either way, this is a huge gamble for the French leader.