No one is publicly criticizing France for questioning Iran’s sincerity and transparency in the negotiations over its nuclear program, and for urging caution about the emerging U.S.-led P5+1 deal with Tehran.
“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,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared. “If the accord is not sufficiently solid then regional countries would say it’s not serious enough, so we are also going to get the nuclear weapon, and that would lead to an extremely dangerous nuclear proliferation.”
Indeed, the deepening concerns of Arab countries have already prompted Saudi Arabia to announce a nuclear cooperation agreement with South Korea. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has called for guarantees that Iran’s nuclear program "does not turn into a nuclear weapon that could pose a threat to the region and the world, especially in view of Iran's aggressive politics in the region."
French and Saudi warnings show that Israel is hardly the only country extremely concerned about the prospect of a deal leaving Iran with the capability to build and deploy nuclear weapons. But unlike Israel and Saudi Arabia, France is one of the P5+1 powers, and is at the table—at least when the U.S. is not meeting privately with Iranian negotiators.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Yukiya Amano has also repeatedly expressed distrust of Iran. Though IAEA negotiations with Iran are running parallel to the P5+1 process, Amano’s long-held concerns are critical, because his agency will be tasked with monitoring implementation of any agreement with Iran.
If, at this point, Amano still cannot get Tehran to fully disclose its past and present research and development, to open all facilities to IAEA inspectors, and to determine “possible military dimensions” of its program, it is highly doubtful that Iran will change after an agreement with the P5+1. That should make such a deal totally unacceptable to the U.S. and the other five countries. However, with the notable exception of France, the U.S.-led talks appear to ignore that key point as Secretary of State John Kerry presses for an agreement.
We’ve seen this script before. In November 2013, with the six P5+1 foreign ministers poised to fly to Geneva to sign a highly anticipated interim agreement with Iran, France raised last-minute, valid concerns that prevented the photo-op and delayed the agreement. At that time, Fabius said the U.S. had been negotiating a “fool’s game” deal with Tehran that didn’t go far enough in limiting its nuclear capabilities.
That interim agreement, called the Joint Plan of Action, stipulated a schedule for completing a permanent agreement that has already been postponed twice. Some sanctions were relaxed as an incentive to encourage Iranian cooperation. But the thousands of centrifuges never stopped spinning, certain nuclear sites remain off-limits to inquisitive inspectors, and Tehran’s promises to cooperate with the IAEA are unfulfilled. Yet almost daily we hear pronouncements, without substantive details, from U.S. officials about “progress” in the talks, even on days Iranian leaders call for death to America.
The ball is back in Iran’s court. Iran may employ its timeless patience and well-honed negotiating skills while demanding concessions from the Western Powers. China and Russia, no doubt eager for ending sanctions, will join in the P5+1 deal so they can be among the first to expand business with Iran.
But more and more voices, especially in the U.S. among both Democrats and Republicans, are calling on negotiators to take more time to get a better deal, one that definitively prevents Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capability and offers ironclad guarantees that Iran will not use its nuclear knowledge to threaten regional and global security.
That’s a tall order. Even without nuclear weapons, Iran continues to interfere in the affairs of other countries – Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and now Yemen – helping to make the Middle East even more dangerous and uncertain. More reasons to suspect Iran, and hold firm in the nuclear talks.
Given the ongoing threats to U.S. interests emanating from Iran, congressional scrutiny of any nuclear deal is imperative. The bipartisan House of Representatives letter, signed by 367 members, to President Obama calling for such review builds upon the voices of concern in Paris, Riyadh and, yes, Jerusalem.
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee's director of media relations.