Sunday, February 3, 2008

Russia, France & Iran

In what can only be considered very encouraging news, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak defended the sanctions against Tehran agreed upon by the "P5+1" and now being considered by the UN Security Council:

"When this document is made public, you will see that it contains serious signals for Iran and envisions a certain expansion of the earlier sanctions", Kislyak said in an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax...

"Iran should fully cooperate with the IAEA's Board of Governors, and, among other things, get back to the implementation of the additional protocol on control, freeze uranium enrichment and take some other measures pending the work to untangle all difficult problems", he said.

He added that the matter remained one of political will, presumably in Tehran. But China's political will is essential to any resolution of this crisis as well, so it's reassuring to see that Chinese banks have cut back their operations in Iran and with Iranian businesses, albeit reluctantly, due to pressure from America's banking sanctions.

Meanwhile, relations between Tehran and Paris continue to deteriorate. Both countries summoned each others' ambassadors, France to protest President Ahmadinejad's comments about the imminent demise of the State of Israel, and Iran in a tit-for-tat response. The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman also pointedly criticized France's plans to establish a permanent military base in the UAE, explaining that Tehran was opposed to any increased foreign military presence in the region.

The French role in the Iranian crisis can't be understated. Both London and Berlin have expressed only tepid support for America's unilateral sanctions, and the likelihood of either of them signing on with their own was remote even before the NIE. Now, America's credibility has been effectively torpedoed. The Bush administration's overly aggressive posture when it was actually in a position to impact the crisis was bad enough. But the brutal aftermath of the NIE report combined with the Bush administration's lameduck status are a fatal cocktail.

France, on the other hand, has maintained a credible and consistently firm opposition to the Iranian enrichment program, and if there is a third round of UN sanctions, it will be largely due to France's very aggressive lobbying for it. Likewise for EU or EU3 sanctions. In fact, it's safe to say that France's resolve has prevented a complete unraveling of the US/EU position in the aftermath of the NIE and the anticipation of a new administration in Washington. So it's no surprise that Paris has to some extent replaced Washington as public enemy no. 1 in Tehran.

I've criticized Nicolas Sarkozy in the past for being a very opportunistic politician who carefully picks his battles. Usually what he looks for before investing any of his political capital in trying to resolve a standoff is a situation where everyone knows the solution, but for lack of a face-saving way to reach it, no one is willing to compromise. His m.o. is to then lean on the right pressure points to generate the political will necessary to get everyone to sign on the dotted line, and then take the credit for saving the day.

That hasn't been the case at all with the Iran crisis. Last summer, he very vocally implicated France in the heart of the crisis at a time when many were concerned about the militarist tone coming out of Washington. Some interpreted his comments as indicating his support for a military strike, but my own sense was that by reassuring Washington about how serious he took the threat, he was actually attempting to walk the Bush administration back towards a negotiated settlement. In the meantime, the NIE effectively left him out on a precipice, very noticeably alone. But to his credit, he has not backed away one inch (or 2.54 centimeters) from the very precarious ledge he found himself on. And if the West does manage to stand Tehran down on its uranium enrichment program, it will be in large part due to the enormous political risk he has taken.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   La France Politique   Russia   

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