Monday, September 18, 2006

Chirac's Change of "Heart" on Iran.

You might have thought that the unity of the five permanent Security Council members (plus Germany) against Iran's uranium enrichment would have been breached by China, but it is French President Chirac who has broken ranks. So far, the idea was that Iran must suspend uranium enrichment as a condition for the start of negotiations but now Chirac is saying:
"We must, on the one hand, together, Iran and the six countries, meet and set an agenda, then start negotiations. Then, during these negotiations, I suggest that the six renounce referring (Iran to) the UN Security Council and that Iran renounce uranium enrichment during negotiations," he said in an interview with Europe-1 radio. (Times)
“I am never in favor of sanctions. I have never seen that sanctions were very effective. I don’t want to say that we will never have to resort to sanctions.”, adding, “But nothing replaces dialogue, you know.” (NYTimes)
This does not seem to make a whole lot of sense. As the NYTimes reminds us, Chirac had so far taken a hard line against Iran in both public and private in the last few years. So is he really a weasel and a coward? That's probably what it is going to come down to in the US but the reality may be more complicated than that.
The BBC suggests that his view may reflect that of other European leaders who think they can sway Iran by stayong on good terms with it rather than by hostile pressure or threats.
Indeed, Germany recently said "it was hopeful about further talk" and China warned that "sanctions might inflame the volatile situation, although it acknowledged it did not want to see Iran get nuclear weapons". But why did Chirac have to shoot first? Ego? Maybe.
Charles Bremner, Times correspondent in Paris also suggests this may be...
a way for the French President to to assert his country’s standing in Middle Eastern affairs after his display of French diplomacy over the crisis in Lebanon. The French may now need to be perceived as a key player in the Middle-East, and the best way to do that is to show you can differ from America.
"The French feel they need to be seen to be calming the Americans. Chirac is calculating that Iran is ready to talk and could be persuaded to make concessions."
This comment on US-France relationships in the same interview by the French president may be another hint:
"In our relations we can only be equals. It cannot be a relationship of submission."
Will it work? I'm not sure. The risk may be to be seen as making more and more concession with nothing in return. And it's not like the US, busy as they are in Iraq, have a whole lot of gunpower to back any tough talk.

NOTE: If I my add, while it shouldn't be a "relationship of submission" à la Blair, let's not kid ourselves, Mr President, the idea that the French and the Americans are equals is just hilarious - a long-gone dream for some - so it might be wise to face reality for once and stop pretending to be De Daulle again!

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