Why Did France Torpedo the Iran Negotiations?

John Glaser, November 11, 2013

800px-Barack_Obama_and_Francois_Hollande_bilateral_meeting_May_18,_2012

The big news coming out of the Iran negotiations at the end of last week was that France took an unexpectedly rejectionist stance in the talks and refused a deal that was all but agreed upon.

One of the reasons this was a huge deal is that the P5+1 and Iran really did seem to be on the cusp of a first-stage agreement. Secretary of State John Kerry canceled his travel plans and went to Geneva, presumably to be there to announce the historic deal.

Additionally, the negotiations were, quite literally, in a race against time, as hardliners in Congress, Israel, and back in Iran tried to derail any possible deal.

But France, strangely enough, beat them to it. And it may be terribly consequential, running the risk of putting the U.S. back on the war path to Tehran. As Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told FP, “if months from now diplomacy has fallen apart and conflict appears more likely, the French could go down in infamy.”

This earned France some unlikely admirers in the two most militant figures in the U.S. Senate: Lindsey Graham told CNN “Thank God for France,” and John McCain tweeted the following.

So why did France do this? It’s hard to say with any certainty, given the fact that the talks are held in complete secrecy. But here are a few of the ideas floating around:

1. Currying favor with Saudi Arabia and Israel: America’s closest allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel, have been pissed off as of late, complaining that Washington hasn’t been hawkish enough on their two regional enemies, Syria and Iran.

Saudi Arabia has been frustrated at the Obama administration’s reluctance to topple the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, either by bombing or by more direct support for the rebels. And both the Saudis and the Israelis hate the fact that diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran has begun in earnest. An easing of tensions between the U.S. and Iran is viewed by our “allies” as a net loss for their own regional dominance.

France is reported to have dramatically increased its weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, and in August the two signed a $1.34 billion defense contract. And President François Hollande is due to visit Israel next week.

It’s incredibly cynical and Machiavellian to think France scuttled a possible deal with Iran just to swoop in and curry favor with America’s dissatisfied allies, but I wouldn’t put it past them. States naturally aim to benefit their own interests at the expense of other states, even allies.

Here’s what Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, tweeted:

2. Getting back at the U.S. for backing out of Syria war: In recent years, France has been drunk on the “humanitarian intervention” Kool-Aid. They were one of the driving forces behind NATO’s intervention in Libya and they’ve been much more inclined to direct military intervention in Syria than Washington. Colum Lynch and Yochi Dreazen report in FP that there may be “an element of personal pique in the French position.”

In September, when the Obama administration began publicly threatening military strikes against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after his regime used chemical weapons against his own people, France was the only American ally that promised to take part. Hollande told Le Monde at the time that the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus “must not go unpunished” and that France was “prepared to punish” Assad for the incident.

That made it all the more embarrassing for the French leader when Obama quickly dropped his plans for an American military intervention into Syria and instead cut a chemical weapons deal with the Syrian strongman. The White House move left France isolated when it didn’t want to be. France is alone again, but this time it’s very much by choice.

3. The French are hawks now: Hollande is supposedly a socialist, but his foreign policy has taken a sharp rightward turn. Since his election, France has been decidedly pro-military intervention on Libya, Mali, and Syria. Apparently, they want to be hawkish on Iran now too. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he backed out of the impending deal last week because the West hadn’t demanded that Iran stop construction on the Arak heavy water reactor, which may produce plutonium in the future.

To add an even stranger mix to all this, Secretary Kerry has refused to criticize France and even claimed the failure to get a deal on Friday was Iran’s fault, a narrative that runs contrary to every other story leaked out of the meetings.

Parties are expected to meet again to hash out a deal later this month. But if this delay provides enough time for Congress to slap on additional sanctions or for hardliners in Iran to call off negotiations, France will shoulder the blame for potentially setting the U.S. and Iran back on the war path.




42 Responses to “Why Did France Torpedo the Iran Negotiations?”

  1. Or if the French has been tasked with the intransigent role " you take the blame now and we'll get you a defense deal so the White House isn't put in another impossible position."

  2. FRENCH FRIES CAN NOW BE HAD AGAIN INSTEAD OF BIG-BROTHERITE FREEDOM FRIES!

    Did I mention that we have always been at war with Oceania?

  3. After Belgium and perhaps Britain, France was the most despicable and abusive of the old colonial powers. Look up Sykes-Picot post WW1. Seems like they want to exercise hegemony once again in the ME and carve up the region for their own interests.

    There sure are many bullies in the global schoolyard wanting to give Iran a bloody nose or more. However, these bullies are nothing but cowards. France and America were defeated in Vietnam. Britain could not defeat the IRA in Northern Ireland.

  4. For a correct answer to the question " why did France torpedo the Iran negotiations".., one needs to study the "modern" social democrats after the USSR fall in 1990. Yet, the modern social democrats are by far opportunist, they will change their red kind of color to blue and white, depending on the wind direction their flag and international song of unity among working class, the other way to understand the modern social democrats is the present political and economic opportunities that can be achieved by all parties involved, depending who will pay more to buy the French weapon, is it going to be Saudis or is it going to be Israeli, now that Israel consider USG a no longer trustworthy allies. After all, it was the very same EU social democrats who agreed and cooperated with Madeline Albright regarding the Balkan war whereby they managed to divid Yugoslavia which benefited the Swedish, French, English, Germans investment by demolishing the Yugoslavian industry. Now, Iran nor Syria is Yugoslavia nor either can be Libya for west and Saudis or UAE mercenaries to conquer, which is the reason for 5+1 the matter in negotiating has become THE agenda to deal with, if Syria and Iran was as Libya or Yugoslavia to be conquered by the west or Saudis and UAE mercenaries, do you think that west would negotiate of anything for anything, the answer is NO. The western plans to conquer the entire northern part of Persian gulf from Lebanon to Syria, to Iraq to Iran and to Pakistan is misfiring, the idea by the Saudis and UAE conquering Syria is the evidence, therefore, everyone is on the negotiating table and some are eager to get more then others, for French however is a life time opportunity to show their long history of opportunism.

  5. Smart man!

  6. […] Why Did France Torpedo the Iran Negotiations? […]

  7. On a side issue, does anybody think Obam's face was photoshoped? Somehow he looks different.

  8. […] Glaser, editor of Antiwar.com, discusses why France torpedoed the Iranian nuclear negotiations at Geneva and the chances for a deal in the near […]

  9. Certainly Mr. Meyer Habib, Israel's representative in the French parliament, played a major role in scuttling the agreement. http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-will-attack-i

  10. You left out taking out a potential industrial competitor – if Iran were successful in mastering the full nuclear cycle, they could start offering their skills to markets where the French are one of the few suppliers. Also, the Iranians invested a lot of money in French enrichment facilities which were supposed to meet Iran's need for enriched Uranium for their civilian program, the end of this "crisis" would mean that the French would have to start delivering and cost them quite a lot.

  11. French foreign policy is really looking bad these last few years.

  12. I'm truly amazed at the lack of understanding of geopolitics demonstrated by the commenters here. The original deal as proposed was an exercise in reducing tensions and was not going to achieve any concrete way of preventing Iran from developing WMD's. Iran has, unlike Iraq, established a full scale domestic infrastructure advanced enough to produce these weapons and their means of delivery, as we have seen from their satelite launches. This 'deal' was simply an admitance of unwillingness on the part of the west to do anything about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

    The french wanted more. They wanted an agreement that would actually impede Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons, and were not willing to sign off on the whitewash that would allow sanctions to be lifted without stopping Iran's drive to nuclear. The French also understand that the sanctions, despite being very slow, are ultimately an effective weapon since the gradual collapse of the Iranian economy is being blamed by the population largely ont he government and the Ayatollahs over time. Whilst the unrest has been contained, it is getting gradually worse and could erupt into serious civil unrest at any time.

    France has no interest in whitewash deals with Iran. Sure France does also benefit from the improved relations with both, ironically, israel and Saudi. The Obama administration *does* have an interest in a whitewash. I wouldn't think this benefits the united states but it does benefit the administration.

    Being anti war is one thing, and any sensible person IS anti war. But not at the price of something even worse in the future. Iran as a state is not as stable as it appears. The religious leaders are still in a positionto exert absolute authority if they choose, and they can go further into radicalism at a moments notice. An iran, ambitious, powerful, fanatical, and armed with intercontinental balistic missiles, which is what they will have, has the possibility to proliferate nuclear weopons to others, and ultimately cause a potential disaster in the region, since the israelis already have nukes, and since the Saudis funded the Pakistani nuclear weapons development programme and can call in the favour by receiving its own nuclear weapons from pakistan any time it wants to, and has said it will if Iran is allowed to become a nuclear power. We do not want a triple alignment of hardline fanatics facing each other all armed with nuclear weapons. Well I don't, and clearly france does not either.

    Peace yes but not at any price.

  13. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/32beeb90-4acc-11e3-8c4c

  14. Exactly
    Obama backed away from a full-fledged overt attack on Syria because of rising domestic opposition combined with the riskiness of possibly, even accidentally, starting a nuclear exchange with Russia.

    So Obama has to go through the motions of a 'peace process' (though continuing the covert warfare against Iran and Syria). Reminder: the military aggression against Syria has NOT lessened.

    The notion that the Obama-loving Hollande stabbed Obama in the back is not very plausible. Instead, it is much more likely that Obama gave Hollande a green-light wink to scuttle an agreement that Obama ( and his top two Mideast allies) never wanted in the first place.

  15. Thanks for the laugh.
    You can't possibly be serious.
    A 'peace-loving' France prevents the 'naive' USA from being 'too soft' on Iran.

    The millions dead in Vietnam and Iraq.
    The aggression against Libya and Syria.
    Global NATO and the petrodollar.
    The despotic Wahhabist kingdom and the apartheid #1 ally.
    All about 'keeping the peace'.
    Really?

  16. French idiots. Always on the wrong side of everything.

  17. please, they say they aren't making a bomb, the US Spooks Groups say they aren't and the IAEA says they aren't diverting radioactive materials away from their stockpiles. so why are you continuing to freak out about Iran getting One bomb and no delivery system when you aren't insisting on the Saudis renouncing a bomb, the Israeli's being made to give the vast majority of theirs up and made to sign up to the non proliferation treaty as well as the french. The Indian and Pakistani bombs must be removed entirely,
    Why do you accuse Tehran of fanaticism when every government is filled to the brim with lunatics who wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice their own countrymen to further their own power.
    The French sabotaged this deal because any deal would effective mean recognition and acceptance for Iranian Islamic Republic which Isreal and the Saudi Kingdom don't want and as a reward the froggies got a nice fat contract and Barry doesn't have to answer to the howling crazies of both parties in Congress.

  18. Hmm well I sense that the argument here has nothing to do with facts and everything to do with biggotry :) Why I do not know. The french don't care what you say about them on the internet, The facts remain the same however. The iranians have created a capability to produce highly enriched uranium unnecessary for civilian use, and are building a facility to create plutonium. The delivery system exists, you have seen them launch satelites into orbit. So the prospect of a real and deliverable bomb is quite real, and the infastructure to support that process plain for all to see. Stating otherwise will not make it so. Hostility to the french for your own imagined reasons will not change the world or the facts. The reality is that the deal on the table will permit sanctions to be lifted and allow the iranians to make their bomb. The french didnt want it, and im also sure they were happy for the contracts but that does not prevent them being correct.

  19. Second rate diplomacy from a third rate minister in a forth rate government for short sited, irrational and idiotic reasons.

    Shame on you France!

  20. The French have made a huge strategic blunder. As always their delusion of being a major world power and their irrational support of the wrong guy (remember their support for Sadam?) is going to blow up in their face while at the same time turn and bite them on the A**!

    As for Iran’s capability to produce highly enriched Uranium, well that is a load of garbage! This is like saying simply because you have a kitchen and have done high school chemistry, then you have the capability to make a bomb!
    Well so what?

  21. Any nation with a peaceful nuclear industry is capable of producing highly enriched Uranium. That by itself means absolutely nothing.

    The fact is that the Iranians:
    •Have never produced highly enriched Uranium.
    •Their supreme leader along with all their clergy have given a fatwa against WMDs
    •As signatories to NPT they have the right to full fuel cycle
    • They have no military components to their nuclear industry

    The whole idea behind these negotiations was so that a level of monitoring could be agreed upon so as to allow the Iranians their peaceful nuclear industry while making 100% sure that they could not divert any radioactive materials into any other program.
    The draft agreement between the Iranians, the Russians, The British, the Americans, The EU representative, the Chinese and the Germans would have done just that.
    Enter the French and the whole thing went south. To make matters worse, the French broke the cardinal rule and made a public announcement on their own. They didn’t even bother their A** to make it with the EU representative present.

  22. please, they say they aren't making a bomb, the US Spooks Groups say they aren't and the IAEA says they aren't diverting radioactive materials away from their stockpiles. so why are you continuing to freak out about Iran getting One bomb and no delivery system when you aren't insisting on the Saudis renouncing a bomb, the Israeli's being made to give the vast majority of theirs up and made to sign up to the non proliferation treaty as well as the french. The Indian and Pakistani bombs must be removed entirely,

  23. The modernized European social democrats politics has been a politics of blunders since the Balkan wars, one day is ok the other day is not ok. They always been promising the empty promises yet giving away their social democracy to the highest bidder, in this they after their past colonial "Syria" or to get a better deal with Saudis-UAE or Israelites, but if Iran offers them what they are after they will give up on the other.

  24. but the Iranians have said they are not building a bomb and the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran says to the best of their knowledge they aren't. and they enriched to 20% for medicine since sanctions prevented the importation of it and since its for civilian use the Iranians as signatories to the Nuclear Non Proliferation treaty are quite entitled to do . to make a bomb you need to get that to 90%. so maybe, when accusing others of bigotry, you check the plank in your own eye.

  25. Let's not forget that war is always a diversion from domestic problems and with the French economy a basket case this presents another opportunity for diversion along with the French desire to feel relevant.

  26. […] […]

  27. "since the gradual collapse of the Iranian economy is being blamed by the population largely ont he government and the Ayatollahs over time. Whilst the unrest has been contained, it is getting gradually worse and could erupt into serious civil unrest at any time. "

    What a load of rubbish!
    HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO IRAN?
    France just did an excellent job of getting the Iranian population blaming the west.

  28. You need to explain why "the sanctions" will stop Iran from acquiring "the bomb", should they decide to do so.

    Should they decide to do so, it will be evident (as they are a signatory to the NPT treaty and in good standing).

    But even then, they will only have a few of gun-type uranium bombs which could be built reasonably reliably. But they would have nothing reliable to put the bomb on target (try to quickly assemble something like a a REALLY HEAVY NUKE on the tip of a rocket – there will be surprises!).

    Plutonium-based nuclear devices soon? Forget it. They don't even have reprocessing in place, to say nothing of having mastered the magic of implosion. This is going to take years and years and years.

    Really, it would be easier to source one from India. But then what to do with it?

    " the prospect of a real and deliverable bomb is quite real" ?

    Please.

  29. Yes, an article by Gideon Rachman, but so what?

  30. Bread and circuses, smoke and mirrors, bait and switch, all samey-same.

    The only thing unusual about this incident is that someone else other than the US is stabbing everyone else in the back this time. France's old guard is still smarting from the loss of Indochina in the 50's and is probably keen to reforge the empire via the Middle East.

    I just wish everybody would drop the tired 'humanitarian intervention' pretense and call it like it is: a big multi-national power play for control of the regional oilfields.

  31. […] which deprive innocent Iranians of food and medicine. Progress in the talks had been reported, but France, with Israeli backing, reportedly threw up roadblocks, among other reasons, due to a conflict of […]

  32. […] which deprive innocent Iranians of food and medicine. Progress in the talks had been reported, but France, with Israeli backing, reportedly threw up roadblocks, among other reasons, due to a conflict of […]

  33. […] deprive innocent Iranians of food and medicine. Progress in the talks had been reported, but France, with Israeli backing, reportedly threw up roadblocks, among other reasons, due to a […]

  34. […] which deprive innocent Iranians of food and medicine. Progress in the talks had been reported, but France, with Israeli backing, reportedly threw up roadblocks, among other reasons, due to a conflict of […]

  35. The negative to your reply was a mistake. It was a thumbs down intended for Aurore's post.

  36. […] which deprive innocent Iranians of food and medicine. Progress in the talks had been reported, but France, with Israeli backing, reportedly threw up roadblocks, among other reasons, due to a conflict of […]

  37. […] deprive innocent Iranians of food and medicine. Progress in the talks had been reported, but France, with Israeli backing, reportedly threw up roadblocks, among other reasons, due to a […]

  38. 30 good reasons for France not to cave or nuclear Iran
    [that have nothing to with zionists or NWO conspiracies nor petro-dollars]
    A) France remembers "Peace for our time" speech in 1938 (Chamberlain) and 1939-1945
    B) France's multicultural society has already knowledge of these type of tensions
    01) France's Muslim population biggest population in Western Europe (estimated 4155000)
    02) France's Jewish populations biggest population in Western Europe ( estimated 600000 Jews in 2013)
    C) France knows a thing or two about civil and military nuclear :
    01) French Nobel peace prize scientist Marie Curie discovered radioactive Radium and Polonium
    02) France is official member of the five nuclear-weapon states under the NPT
    03) France's nuclear share of electricity production is biggest in the world (74.8%)
    05) France's nuclear produced electricity is second biggest in the world (estimated 63130 MW in 2012)

  39. […] Just as the US was trumpeting to the world that they were on the verge of a deal, France steps in and objects, killing the deal. The big question is did they do it on behalf of the US or for their own reasons? John Glasser takes the traditional position that France did it for their own interests but I’m very sure they did it as part of a very sophisticated deception the US is playing. Here’s Glasser’s conventional view: […]

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  41. Boiled down to its fundamentals, any advocate of any kind of U.S. intervention – everything from arming the rebels to a no-fly zone to boots on the ground – is really advocating that America change the regime in Syria.

  42. Boiled down to its fundamentals, any advocate of any kind of U.S. intervention a?? everything from arming the rebels to a no-fly zone to boots on the ground a?? is really advocating that America change the regime in Syria.