London and Tehran are renewing diplomatic ties after a two-year freeze following the 2011 storming of the British embassy in Tehran by Iranian protesters.
Ajay Sharma, Britain’s new charge d’affaires to Iran and previously head of the Foreign Office’s Iran department, said he will visit Iran later this month amid further signs of a thaw in relations between the Islamic Republic and the West.
The decision to renew diplomatic ties was made during the weekend in Geneva, where British Foreign Secretary William Hague and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry were attending the Big Powers meeting to hammer out a deal with Iran that would lead to an ease of sanctions on Tehran.
France scuttled a possible deal, but Kerry on Monday expressed his usual pie-in-the-sky optimism, a prerequisite to become a Democratic Secretary of State.
“This is not a race to complete just any agreement,” Kerry told a news conference during a visit to the United Arab Emirates. “Through diplomacy we have an absolute responsibility to pursue an agreement.” He said he expects an agreement within “months.”
A deal might have been reached by now if it were not for France, which refused to endorse a proposal on the table because it said the suggested deal did not go far enough to keep Iran from continuing to develop a nuclear bomb.
Kerry insisted there was no division among the major powers and stated, “The French signed off on it, we signed off on it, and everybody agreed it was a fair proposal. There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it at that particular moment; they weren’t able to accept that particular thing.”
Tehran agreed on Monday to allow U.N. inspectors “limited access” to a uranium mine and a heavy water plant – but only within three months, while asking for an early relaxation of banking restrictions.
It is exactly this kind of manipulation that has driven the Netanyahu government into a wall-to-wall coalition stand against easing up the pressure on Iran. The Prime Minister has unusual backing from Saudi Arabia and Egypt and from more reliable backers, such as the Republican party.
“Thank God for France,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, told CNN. “The French are becoming very good leaders in the Mideast.”
GOP Sen. John McCain, tweeted, “#France had the courage to prevent a bad nuclear agreement with #Iran. Vive la France!”
France suddenly has become Israel’s closest European friend. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius joined the talks in Geneva at the last minute, according to the Foreign Policy Cable.
“Fabius, echoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is said to have had two serious concerns with the deal,” the Cable reported Monday. “First, the agreement failed to prevent Tehran from continuing construction on its nuclear reactor at Arak. Once the facility is operational, a key part of Iran’s nuclear program would be immune to airstrikes because bombing the plant would lead to massive, deadly, radiation leaks. Fabius was also upset that the deal didn’t require Iran to reduce its stockpiles of 20% enriched uranium, which is approaching weapons-grade. The Hollande government, Fabius told French radio, would not be part of a ‘fool’s game.’”
Years ago, in the days of Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, France supplied Iran with technology and equipment to help the country build a uranium enrichment facility. Paris continues to have good intelligence information on Iran’s nuclear development and has eagle eyes to spot holes in any agreement the United States proposes.
The Cable quoted, Olli Heinonen, a leading expert on Iran’s nuclear program and former Deputy Director-General for Safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency, as saying that allowing more work on its heavy water plant in Arak would turn the facility into a “fait accompli.”
“You become a hostage to Arak,” he said. “Once it starts operating, there is nothing you can do.”
France’s playing spoil sport for the Obama administration is just desserts for the president. Nearly three months ago, President Barack Obama threatened he would use military force against Syrian President Bassar al-Assad because of the regime’s use of chemical weapons.
France was Obama’s only European ally that supported using force. Obama then took a 180-degree about-face, leaving France looking silly and chalking up one more American foreign policy flub.