During the most recent round of negotiations between the P5+1 countries and Iran, France, not the United States, surprised the international community as the country to take the hardest line against Iran and its nuclear program. France’s Ambassador to the United Nations called Iran’s progress “insufficient” in the face of the optimism streaming from the other world powers. France sees the June 30th deadline as “artificial and counterproductive” perhaps even arbitrary. Generally, France has also proven to be stricter than the United Kingdom or Germany, consistently calling for tougher sanctions from the European Union outside of the U.N. resolutions.
Most importantly, though, France appears to be harsher than the Obama administration, who has taken the helm of the negotiations. In accordance with this hardline attitude, France continues to push the United States and other world powers on the two issues it views most contentiously: the speed at which sanctions would be lifted and the limitations on Iran’s nuclear research abilities, arguing that the P5+1 allies “should be willing to wait Tehran out for a better deal.” France, while taking the firmest line, has done so due to its previous dealings with Iran which have resulted in skepticism that Iran is genuine in its engagement with the U.S.-led negotiations on its limiting its nuclear program.
In November 2013, France called the Iran nuclear deal a “fool’s game” and claimed it did not limit enough of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The French tone has hardly changed nearly 2 years later: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared that France “wants an agreement, but a robust one that really guarantees that Iran can have access to civilian nuclear power, but not the atomic bomb.” Primarily, France wants a nuclear deal that guarantees Iran’s “breakout time” is for the length of the deal, and much longer.
The French have prodded the U.S. and other major powers to get a better deal and insist that one is actually possible. France also claims that nuclear proliferation has long been a key foreign policy strategy and that any relaxation in U.N. restrictions could “lead to a broader collapse of the West’s financial leverage” over Iran. France, publicly, claims that its resistance to the Iran nuclear deal has long been a tenet of its foreign policy and that all advantages over Iran that the West has must be exploited.
The first internal reason that France is taking a hard line against the Iranian nuclear deal is because they feel they are being ignored. The French feel they have been purposely excluded from the most important discussions surrounding this divisive issue. It is true that what started out as the P5+1 and Iran multilateral discussions has transformed into more of bilateral talks between Washington and Tehran, leaving out many key world nuclear powers. The feeling of being left out is compounded by the pressure France is feeling from Washington, with French diplomats charging American diplomats with trying to “force them to make concessions’ on key issues. France views itself with the utmost importance and as having a profound effect on the world. Being left out of key negotiations on such important and global issues is a blow to French confidence and legitimacy and, as the French argue, international security.
The second reason for France’s tougher posturing is a lack of trust in the country essentially leading the negotiations, the United States. French leaders do not hide their irritation with U.S. policies in the Middle East, fearing that the United States is “on the verge of profoundly reshaping its traditional alliance system” in the Middle East, with Iran taking the place of Saudi Arabia. It is suspected that the nuclear talks “are just one part of a strategic rapprochement with Iran.” Paris fears that Washington no longer places the same stock in its longstanding allies, especially France, and is more concerned about a deal with Iran. Therefore, France’s mistrust of the U.S. stems from a fear of declining importance in U.S. foreign policy and potentially becoming obsolete.
Finally, France is maintaining a hard line due its own pride. It all comes down to the fear of getting hurt as Iran has burned France before. France attempted to include Iran’s nuclear program in negotiations with Germany and Britain in 2004 and 2005 and has been trying to engage Iran in nuclear talks for longer than the United States, with considerably less success. France was hoodwinked when it was publicly announced that Iran had built an underground enrichment facility. “The French do not necessarily trust the commitment the Iranians actually engage in,” one French official stated, showing that France’s mistrust of Iran runs very deep. France also demands more of the nuclear deal talks as it is already a nuclear power and any new members “would tarnish its own relative prestige and power.” Above all, by remaining a member of the elite nuclear club, France can “maintain an independent role in global affairs” and guarantee its sustained importance in the world. France’s pride requires that its foreign policy and standing in the international community is not dictated by the United States and it remains influential in its own right.
France surprised most of the international community by being the country to assume the most hardline stance with regards to the Iran nuclear deal. The French maintain that a better deal can be reached and that the United States should not be too quick to sign an agreement for the sake of reaching one. France’s fear of being left out as negotiations have become mostly bilateral between Tehran and Washington is one reason for their resistance. Correspondingly, France does not entirely trust the United States to reach a deal that France finds satisfactory because of fears that the U.S. is trying to change the geopolitical composition of the Middle East. Finally, French pride is causing France to adopt a stricter tone. Despite its efforts to adopt a more hawkish foreign policy, France “would never totally derail talks so vitally important to Washington” and will ultimately support a nuclear deal when it comes to fruition.