The US will trigger a “spiral of proliferation” in the Middle East if it abandons the nuclear deal with Iran which, after all, is being “strictly implemented”, the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, on September 18 said on the sidelines of this week’s UN general assembly in New York.
France’s top diplomat delivered his warning in anticipation of a joint assault from Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN gathering on the resistance of European powers including Paris, Berlin and London to scrapping the deal painstakingly put together under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.
Le Drian insisted that Iran was abiding by the terms of the 2015 deal that relieved sanctions against the Islamic Republic in return for a drastic scaling down of its nuclear development programme. The agreement, formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was being tightly verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he told journalists.
Trump, claiming Tehran is violating the deal at least “in spirit”, as well as Netanyahu plan to argue that the JCPOA is not effective enough in containing Iran’s nuclear programme, especially given the widely shared nervousness over Tehran’s expansive role in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.
Netanyahu last week declared: “Our position is straightforward. This is a bad deal. Either fix it – or cancel it.” But he does not even enjoy the full backing of the Israeli defence and intelligence establishment on that point. On September 18, The Guardian referred to how Carmi Gillon, a former chief of the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet, wrote in July: “[The JCPOA] has neutralised a major threat to the world, while ensuring that the United States and its allies have the tools, the information and the leverage that they need to confront the Iranian danger and make the region, and the world, a safer place.”
Tehran ‘will not be bullied’
Hardliners in Iran, as always anxious not to be regarded as being pushed around by Washington, will direct renewed defiance and fury at Trump if his move against the deal results in its collapse. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a September 18 speech to Iranian police academy graduates that Tehran will not be bullied by the Americans and will react strongly to any “wrong move” by the Trump administration. He added: “Today, despite all the commitments and discussions in the negotiations, America’s attitude towards these negotiations and their outcome is entirely unjust and amounts to bullying… The Americans should know ... there will be no retreat by the Islamic Republic.”
Trump is due to either certify the nuclear deal, or withhold certification, when on October 15 the regular 90-day review comes round again at the White House. He has indicated he is set to opt for the latter option, though even his own secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, appears to want a different approach.
Trade and investment deals worth many billions of euros struck with Iran by European, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and other companies could be lost, or fail to get signed, if the JCPOA collapses. But as the US and other deal signatories have continued their dispute over the effectiveness of the JCPOA since Trump arrived in the White House in January, foreign business with Iran has incrementally built up. Only this week British Airways opened a new office in Tehran, while even America’s Boeing hopes Trump will eventually let it supply Iran with dozens of new jets, earning the company a handsome profit and creating jobs in the US all at the same time.
Le Drian said the JCPOA is crucial to global security, adding at his press briefing: “It’s essential to maintain it to prevent a spiral of proliferation that would encourage hardliners in Iran to pursue nuclear weapons.”
“France will try to persuade President Trump of the importance of this choice,” Le Drian added. He declined to outline his position when quizzed on whether the deal could survive if the US withdrew from it while the other major power signatories – France, the UK, Germany, China, Russia and Iran – continued to stand by it. “It would be a great responsibility,” he said, declining to comment further.
Tillerson will for the first time meet his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on September 20 at a session of a joint commission established by the JCPOA signatories. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will host the meeting.