Within the framework of its studies on the major geopolitical issues of our time, the Paris Academy of Geopolitics has organised on Thursday, 16 May 2013, the conference on “The Future of French Diplomacy in the Case of Iran” held at the National Assembly.
This conference intends to shed a light on current and future diplomatic relations between France and Iran. This conference represents an opportunity to stimulate debate and think about a change in French diplomacy with regard to Iran.
This event has been attended by professors, leading researchers, experts and specialists of the region, journalists, as well as representatives of the diplomatic bodies such as Their Excellencies Ambassadors of: Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Malta, Sudan and Senegal, representatives of the diplomatic bodies from the Embassies of South Africa, Albania, Bahrain, Serbia, China, Korea, Croatia, Egypt, Georgia, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Sweden.
The conference has been opened by Dr. Ali RASTBEEN, President of the Paris Academy of Geopolitics. He advanced the idea that the harmonisation of French-Iranian ties was extremely necessary for the stability in the region and in the world. Having astonishing resources, Iran has been struggling to lead its foreign relations as a regional power ever since 1997. Victims in the past of external aggressions, the latter committed by Iraq, the Iranian people were disappointed with the outcome of these conflicts, especially since none of the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions have nominated the aggressor. He also reiterated that Iran is characterised by its nationalism and that it occupies a leader position in the Muslim world. Dr. Rastbeen notes that at the international level, the foreign policy of Iran is dominated by a mutual and long lasting hostility between Iran and the United States since the 1979 revolution. In time, these differences have taken a global dimension.
Finally, with regard to the nuclear issue, Iran is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and has ratified in 1970 the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and supports the idea of a denuclearised Middle East. He regrets the fact that since the beginning of Nicholas Sarkozy’s mandate as President of the Republic, France has adopted a followership policy, in line with that of the United States, even if it had previously backed Iran in the field of nuclear research from 1956 to date. To conclude with, negotiations are the only viable alternative in settling regional and global disputes as well as in guaranteeing the stability and development of Iran. This is an alternative in which France could play a major role.
Following these remarks, Zalmaï Haquani, former Ambassador of Afghanistan to France, has inaugurated the first panel of the conference.
Jacques Myard, Deputy of Yvelines, Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on European Affairs, President of the Club Nation and Republic, then took the floor and recalled the traditional relations that tie Iran to France. He points out that Iran as a multi-millennial country with a Shiite majority, the most populated and educated in this region of the world, is a power that occupies a special place in the Middle East spectrum. Nevertheless, its plans in the field of nuclear research that have qualified it for the enforcement of international sanctions, as well as its game in an unstable region confronted with the Arab revolt upheavals, steal all the attention and focus of questions coming from France and the international community. Confronted with this situation and the complex stakes involved, Jacques Myard urged France to take into account the role played by Iran in the Middle East and to pursue an open, yet alert dialogue.
Jean-Michel Vernochet, writer and journalist, has spoken in his turn about the economic and trade relations between the two countries.
Monsieur Vernochet s’est interrogé si la diplomatie française est souveraine, indépendante ou simplement autonome vis-à-vis de ses partenaires européens ou américains. Pour ce faire, il a analysé les liens historiques et Traités qui unissent la France à l’Union européenne et aux États-Unis, qu’ils soient bi ou multilatéraux, tel le Traité de Lisbonne ou l’Organisation du traité de l’Atlantique Nord bientôt doublés d’un Traité de libre-échange Europe États-Unis en cours de négociation. Il a déduit que ces derniers contraignent et limitent l’exercice souverain de la diplomatie nationale, stricto sensu, d’intérêts nationaux primordiaux. Contraintes et limites qu’il a évaluées ici dans le cas des relations franco-iraniennes à travers un exemple économique et industriel singulièrement représentatif qui est le Groupe PSA Peugeot Citroën en Iran. En somme, Jean-Michel Vernochet a essayé de mettre en évidence le fait que les relations que Paris entretient avec Téhéran sont à la fois « dégradées » et « contradictoires ».
Mr. Vernochet wondered whether the French diplomacy is sovereign, independent or simply autonomous with regard to its European or American partners. In order to do that, he examined the traditional relations and treaties that tie France to the European Union and to the United States, be they unilateral or multilateral, such of the Treaty of Lisbon or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation soon followed by an EU-US Free Trade Agreement currently in negotiation talks. He concluded that the latter constrain and limit the sovereign exertion of national diplomacy in the strict sense of the national fundamental interests. He assessed these constraints and limits in the light of the French-Iranian relations by using a singularly representative economic and industrial example: PSA Peugeot Citroen Group in Iran. All in all, Jean-Michel Vernochet tried to highlight the fact that the relations Paris has with Tehran are both “deteriorated” and “contradictory”.
Admiral Jean Dufourcq, Chief Editor of the National Defence Journal, Research Director at the Strategic Research Institute of the Military Academy, in his turn, has defended the argument according to which the Iranian case plays an important role in the context of the French diplomacy that is actually locked by two imperatives that are also political choices: the unity of the members of the Security Council with regard to nuclear non-proliferation on one side, and its dependence on moral engagements towards Israel, and financial ones towards the oil powers from the Golf on the other side. Jean Dufourcq believes that this position that he deems excessively engaged, even aligned, does not necessarily serve all the strategic interests of France. It would be highly suitable to see a balance in the French approach with regard to this power from Western Asia in coordination with the two other regional powers that are Turkey and Russia. A strategic repositioning would equally encourage a virtual nuclear position, similar to the Japanese case, and standardisation within the international community.
Aymeri de Montesquiou, Senator of Gers and President of the France-Iran Inter-parliamentary Group, has in turn examined the positive results coming from the policy of ostracism applied in the case of Iran. He calls for a continued dialogue between countries and not between regimes. The French economic interests lead to another political approach in the case of Iran in which France loses its market share while keeping itself alert with regard to non-proliferation based on IAEA’s reports, up to now subjected to interpretation and never accepted as such. Aymeri de Montesquiou questions the international sanctions policy in which France is a leading voice, since its legal ground is disputed by legal experts, and the double standard of the international community which tolerates the existence of nuclear capacity in countries that do not comply with UN resolutions (i.e. India, Israel, Pakistan), thus yielding in Iran, a country with a strong nationalism, a feeling of injustice and resentment from all the Iranians. He believes that France was once known for its unique, bold and visionary diplomatic voice that needs expressed in its relations with Iran, a key country for peace in the region.
Professor François Géré, Founding President of The French Institute for Strategic Analysis has recalled the diplomatic relations between Iran and France and that were characterised, according to him, by a great ambiguity summed up in two words: Neauphle le Château and EURODIF. On one side, there is gratitude for having provided asylum to the founding father of the Iranian revolution, on the other side an endless financial dispute related to nuclear cooperation. Not once broken, the dialogue between France and Iran takes on a new dimension in 2002 due to the nuclear crisis. Together with the United Kingdom and Germany (E-3), France initiates talks with Iran so as to settle the question of the uranium enrichment site in Natanz. The lack of confidence between Paris and Tehran has profoundly altered the negotiation talks. The remarks of President Ahmadinejad with regard to Israel and the Holocaust of the Jews poison the relations. Starting from 2007, the situation aggravates, and the French diplomacy gripped by neo-conservatism adopts a rigid position, even trying to dissuade the first peaceful attempts of President Obama towards Tehran in the early 2009. Since then, the situation is stagnating. Quai d’Orsay remains convinced that Tehran is trying to buy time in order to reach nuclear military capacity.
In order to find a solution, François Géré believes that it is appropriate to change the negotiation talks. First, change the diplomatic teams that have confronted each other for too long. Then, set up a synchronised calendar of balanced “mutual disengagement” both in negative terms (alleged sanctions, decrease of the enrichment programme) and positive terms (Iran accepts to enforce the additional protocol, and France takes part in the advanced technology transfers that Iran wants to acquire and so on) allowing each party to earn something. Finally, place the negotiations in a secure environment for Iran which implies a dialogue with Syria and regional stability measures so as to stop and decrease the arms race.
David Mascré, Lecturer in Geopolitics in higher education, has concentrated on repositioning Iran in its geographic and political context. He reminded that, first of all, Iran currently holds significant geopolitical and geo-economic assets to use in the global economic race: OPEC’s second oil-producing country, second in line in global gas reserves and so on. Secondly, he mentioned its geographical position which turns it into an important partner in the transport of energy reserves for the countries bordering the Caspian Sea. Thirdly, he describes a durable political structure which turns Iran into a stability factor in a region gripped by war, chaos and anarchy for many years now. Nevertheless, the country remains diplomatically isolated and economically fragile given the excessive dependence of its income on oil, its limited access to financial markets due to the Helms-Burton and D’Amato Acts, or even due to its diplomatic isolation.
Mr. Christophe Réveillard, Head of Research at Sorbonne and CNRS, chaired the second panel.
General (2S) Henri PARIS, President of Democracies, has opened the second panel of the conference on the topic of the Iranian nuclear strategy. The question regarding Iran’s achievement of a nuclear military capacity is subjected to controversy, declared the General in his opening argument. He reminded that the Iranian officials have denied searching for this capacity and have vowed to comply with the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that has been signed and ratified. The NPT authorizes the enrichment of uranium for civilian purposes. Based on its own intelligence systems, the United States purports that the enrichment performed by the Iranians is for military purposes. By refusing any in situ controls from organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iranians feed suspicions. Henri Paris highlights, and it’s worth mentioning, that it was the same thing with Iraq until 2003 when all inspections were possible and proved negative. Any analysis of this case must then take into account the open reluctance of Iranians. In the first place, General Henri Paris has analysed the strategic position of Iran and its threats regarding the Strait of Hormuz in order to fight the embargo mandated by the UN to the United States. Secondly, he reviewed the state of the Iranian forces before drawing conclusions regarding the required capacity.
Chancellor Gérard-François DUMONT, Professor at University of Sorbonne, has analysed the geopolitical nature of the relations between France and Iran. Hence, he emphasized to what extent these relations fall within a combination of connecting and isolating agents. By being able to openly admit their differences, France and Iran must build on what connects them in order to improve their mutual relationships striving for world peace and human development.
The penultimate speaker, Thierry COVILLE, Professor of Economics at Novancia, has spoken about the economic relations between France and Iran. First of all, he reminded that trade exchanges between France and Iran have significantly decreased these last years. This decrease is mainly explained through the impact of financial sanctions enforced within the framework of the Iranian nuclear case. Afterwards, he questioned the efficiency of the sanctions policy before concluding that the latter was highly debatable. Finally, he attempted to analyse the diplomatic logic that has led the French authorities into favouring these instruments (i.e. sanctions) in their diplomatic relations with Iran.
Finally, Mr. Adnan AZZAM, Co-founder of the Party of the Syrian People and eyewitness to two years of war in Syria, has retraced the events that are currently unfolding in Syria, and the French diplomacy with regard to the Iranian-Syrian ties. He declares himself convinced of the fact that the international community would come out better off by taking action in immediately curbing the interferences in the Syrian home affairs provoking excessive bloodshed and by lifting all these sanctions. He believes that France, whose diplomatic tradition is to recognise states and not regimes, should be interested in restoring diplomatic relations between the two legal Governments, in disseminating its universal values especially secularism and in keeping France out of a contradictory diplomacy.
Adnan Azzan has called on the friends of the Syrian people to find a solution as soon as possible for peace and dialogue in Syria in order to put a halt on bloodshed. He also added that Iran has not spared efforts in this respect by organising meetings in Tehran with the numerous political parties and Syrian officials. Iran maintains good relations both with the legal Government and the opposition. In this sense, by changing its approach in the Syrian case, France could take part, together with Iran, to the economic and political reconstruction of future Syria.
Mohamed TROUDI, Research Associate in International and Strategic Relations at the Paris Academy of Geopolitics stepped in to conclude this conference that has been rich in its contributions, questions and remarks provided by the audience.