Paris (CNSNews.com) – With the Trump administration moving to increase diplomatic pressure on Iran, France is caught between siding with the U.S. and working to safeguard economic relations that have grown since the lifting of sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Tensions between France and Iran have risen in recent months, with Tehran criticizing Paris over France’s views on the Iranian ballistic missile program and its role in Middle East problems.
Iran’s new ambassador to Paris, Abolghassem Delfi, presented his credentials President Emmanuel Macron this week, and stressed the importance of good relations between the two countries.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has always emphasized the resolution of regional issues through dialogue and opposes any kind of foreign intervention,” Delfi told Macron.
Macron, in replying, said France was “looking for dialogue and constructive relations with Iran.”
He also made a point of saying France intends to honor the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). President Trump on October 13 decertified the regime’s compliance with the JCPOA, saying that “Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal.”
In contrast to Macron’s remarks, his foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said while visiting Washington this week that France would join the U.S. in increasing pressure on Iran over its missile program, and may support “tough sanctions” if Iran does not desist.
Iran responded through Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign affairs advisor to supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who told an Iranian newspaper that “France should show an attitude based on mutual respect, and the remarks made about our missile issues and our presence in the region constitute interference in Iran's affairs.”
Although France says it remains committed to the JCPOA and Macron has reaffirmed his willingness to “dialogue” with Tehran, he has also voiced concern about Iran’s behavior.
In an interview with a French newspaper last month Macron expressed the “wish that Iran would have a less aggressive regional strategy and that we could clarify its ballistic missile policy which appears to be out of control.”
Le Drian is scheduled to visit Iran at the beginning of January. He said in Washington he would make clear Paris’ concerns: “We are fully determined to press very vigorously on Iran to stop the development of an increasingly significant ballistic missile capability.”
In a speech in Paris last week, leader of the exiled Iranian opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) Maryam Rajavi said without naming France specifically that “Western governments’ policies on Iran are full of contradictions, which gives the regime breathing space.”
“So long as the E.U. is under the illusion that it could contain the regime’s dangers by giving it concessions, it would be as if it is feeding the crocodile,” she said.
Rajavi suggested that the E.U., in stepping up trade with the regime, was abandoning its own values.
“We believe that the E.U. should abandon a policy that facilitates the regime’s destabilization of the Middle East,” NCRI foreign affairs committee member Shahin Gobadi told CNSNews.com.
“Instead, the E.U. must undertake a consistent policy of firmness towards the Iranian regime.”
France has been active in business in Iran since sanctions were lifted at the JCPOA’s implementation in January 2016. Oil and gas giant Total is the third major French company to return to Iran, after the Renault and PSA (whose products include Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and Vauxhall) automakers.
Such companies are aware they have much to lose if the U.S. reinstates sanctions. Trump must decide by mid-January whether he wants to continue waiving energy sanctions on Iran.