While most pragmatists knew well in advance that optimism over an Iran nuclear programme deal emerging out of Geneva was very much displaced, few anticipated what the actual reason for the failure would be. Indeed, most had expected that the staunchest opponent to the deal, Israel PM Netanyahu who moments ago appeared on Face the Nation and made his case (saying Iran would have given up "almost nothing") would have used his influence over the US as a key member of the 5+1 group of nations (US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Iran) to block any Iranian detente with the US, even though none other than John Kerry has been urging for the Iranian deal for weeks. So when news hit that it was France who had scuttled a deal with a last minute block, many were surprised.
“There was a possibility to reach an agreement with the majority of 5+1 but there was a need to have the consent of all and as you have heard . . . one of the delegations had some problems,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Facebook post referring to the six nations involved in the talks – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Iran. Three days of intense negotiations in Geneva, which went into early Sunday morning, failed to produce an interim agreement over Iran’s nuclear programme despite earlier optimistic predictions.
France appeared to be concerned that the proposal, which involved Tehran halting key parts of its nuclear programme in return for modest relief from tough international sanctions, did not apply the brakes hard enough on the country’s agenda.
Iran’s negotiating team was blessed last week with the strong support of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and ultimate decision maker, who urged hardliners not to weaken the diplomatic team during nuclear talks and said they were “children of the revolution”.
But the top leader’s official Twitter account on Sunday reposted his comments from a speech earlier this year in which he had condemned France’s alleged enmity toward Iran. “The officials of French government in recent years have shown explicit hostility toward the Iranian nation. This is a thoughtless and imprudent move,” the tweet said.
This means that once again the traditional narrative of Iran as an intransigent, obstinate negotiator falls apart, even if there had been an ulterior motive: the removal of Western sanctions against the improverished nation. So it will be up to the west to come up with yet another provocation that makes Iran seem like an irrational actor on the international arena.
However, a bigger questions arises: why did France break away from the US-led negotiating axis, just to side not only with Israel but with Saudi Arabia.
Many ordinary Iranians, including the reform-minded public and those educated in the west, expressed outrage at France and accused it of trying to appease Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have been against any nuclear deal that would give Iran the right to enrich uranium.
“French cars occupy Tehran’s streets but instead France stabs Iran in the back,” said Mina, a 32-year-old businesswoman.
“France’s alliance with Saudi Arabia against Iran is nothing new and we had seen it during the Iran-Iraq war [1980-88] when the Saudis paid France to give fighter bombers and missiles to Saddam [Hussein] to kill us,” said Narges, a university student of politics.
“We should boycott French fries and baguettes in a symbolic move,” said Mahdi, an electric engineer.
Even Iran’s hardliners who are in principle against any deal attacked France. Fars news agency, close to the elite Revolutionary Guards, ran a headline: “Tough negotiations in Geneva and a French gun-wielding frog.”
Which should at least partially answer the nagging question about who it is that Saudi Arabia has picked to fill the diplomatic void in the aftermath of the deterioration in relations between the oil-rich nation and the US.
Then again, a Saudi Arabia alligned with a France, which by implication is now operating against US interests should result in some truly comic events in the international diplomacy arena very soon. We can't wait to find out just how Hollande's socialist government proceeds to entertain the world with its foreign policy foibles.
Finally, for those who missed it, here is Netanyahu earlier today saying "no deal is better than a bad deal."