Macron may call for a 'new agreement,' but Iran is unlikely to agree
French President Emmanuel Macron has suggested a new approach to try to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But Tehran is not likely to accept the initiative and the move could be counterproductive.
Barely two days after he emphatically told Fox News there was no “Plan B” alternative to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Macron appeared to be backtracking Tuesday, when he revealed that he had discussed “a new agreement” with President Donald Trump during his US visit.
While some analysts based in Western capitals were trying to figure how the “new agreement” – of which few details were provided – was a bid to save the landmark nuclear deal, the reaction from Tehran was unsurprisingly categorical. “What for?” thundered a furious Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday.
The Iranian leader went on to suggest that Macron had no right to unilaterally discuss amendments to a deal that was signed by seven parties. "I have spoken with Macron several times by phone, and one time in person at length,” said Rouhani. “I have told him explicitly that we will not add anything to the deal or remove anything from it, even one sentence.”
Unlike many other Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Rouhani is a not a man given to bellicose bluster. According to Thierry Coville from the Paris-based French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), Rouhani meant what he said. "There is little chance that Iran will accept a new agreement," said Coville in an interview with FRANCE 24. "How can we expect the Iranians to make concessions if the other parties do not respect a text they have signed?"
US – not Iran – has failed to abide by deal
Iranian officials have repeatedly noted that the US has failed to abide by the 2015 deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Concern about US financial penalties, particularly under the Trump administration, have led several international banks and financial institutions to stay away from the Iranian market.
More than two years after the deal was signed between the US, Iran, France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the EU, ordinary Iranians – who have suffered for years under economic sanctions – have not experienced the economic benefits of the JCPOA. The failure, so far, to meet the Iranian people’s expectations has made the nuclear deal a tough sell for Rouhani’s government, particularly in Iran’s powerful hardline circles.
In his latest speech, Rohani did not mince his words when he slammed the US Treasury, accusing it of hijacking the global economy with its sanctions on any banks that trade with Iran.
Tehran also regularly criticises European countries for yielding to US pressure on this point. Meanwhile emerging Asian economies, such as India and China, have seen growing bilateral trade with Iran, facilitated by domestic banks and currencies.
Ballistic missiles: a matter of 'national sovereignty'
Critics of the JCPOA have called on the US to “fix it or nix it” but the fixes they propose would violate the accord by unilaterally extending its various sunset clauses and adding new provisions on ballistic missiles.
Macron has conceded that Iran’s ballistic programme, which is not part of the painstakingly negotiated 2015 deal, is a problem and that he would like to "end Iran's ballistic activities in the region".
Israel has long pushed the US and EU for a curtailment of Iran’s ballistic activity in the region. But while Western audiences are familiar with their leaders’ calls on Tehran to curtail its ballistic programme, few understand that for Iranians, their country’s short and medium- range missiles are a matter of national sovereignty, explains Coville. "The Iranians launched this ballistic programmme during the [1980-1988] Iran-Iraq war. At that time, they were attacked by [then Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein, the UN did not defend Iranians, and the West was against them. Since then, they want to have their own defence system to be self-reliant and not have to depend on others in case of an attack.”
Despite these concerns, Coville– who has co-authored a report, “Better Together” on the future of Europe’s strategy on Iran – believes Iran has proved that it’s able to make concessions. "Iranians are not closed on the issue. There are elements of possible negotiation,” said Coville, recalling that Iranian officials in recent weeks have discussed the possibility of Tehran agreeing to limit the range of their missiles to 2,000 kilometres. It’s a concession that would reassure Israel since it would keep Iranian missiles from reaching Israeli territory.
Including Iran in regional negotiations
Another contentious issue which Macron addressed Tuesday was Iran's activities in Yemen and Syria. Speaking to reporters, the French president said that he and Trump would look at the Iran deal "in a wider regional context", taking into account the situation in Syria. "We have a common objective, we want to make sure there's no escalation and no nuclear proliferation in the region. We now need to find the right path forward," said Macron.
When it comes to Yemen and Syria, Coville suggested that Iran could be given a place at the negotiating table to play a constructive role in trying to bring an end to the conflicts in the region, which, Coville noted, “is not always the case".
Meanwhile the US president, who has repeatedly stated that the Iran nuclear deal signed under the Barack Obama administration was “the worst deal ever", has until May 12 to decide on a possible reinstatement of economic sanctions against Iran.
Should Trump decide to nix the deal, it would be "counterproductive", said Coville. "It would send a very bad signal [about Washington’s failure to stick to its agreements] including to North Korea."
This article has been translated from the original in French
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