French warmongering aids Iran's cause
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
As if to symbolize the poor state of relations between the United States and
Iran, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad this week was refused permission to
lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site when he visits New York next week
to attend a United Nations General Assembly meeting.
While officials said that Ahmadinejad's request to honor the site of the
September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was because of ongoing construction, the
US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, was more candid, saying the US would
not support the "photo op".
"Iran can demonstrate its seriousness about concern with regard to terrorism by
taking concrete actions, such as dropping support
for Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and suspending their uranium-enrichment
program," Khalilzad said.
The atmosphere between Iran and some Western countries has certainly not
improved since French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner made his provocative
statement on the possibility of a war with Iran over its disputed nuclear
program, and the negative fallout continues despite Kouchner's desperate
attempt to "tone down" his warmongering diatribe.
Both the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) and France's senate have embarked on a
common review of Kouchner's statement, and it is not far-fetched to anticipate
a united front by Iranian and French parliamentarians on this matter in the
Iranian government spokesperson Gholamhossein Elham characterized Kouchner's
comments as "the dumb option of war", insisting that "everyone seeks peace and
the Islamic Republic of Iran holds the flag of peace and equality". Iran may be
constantly vilified, even demonized, in the West, particularly by right-wing
politicians and media pundits, yet there have been stern reactions to
Kouchner's undiplomatic anti-Iran outbursts. This is seen in various European
capitals, in Moscow and by the reaction of Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who lambasted the war "hype". This
leaves no doubt that the new French government has inflicted severe damage on
its activist pursuit, together with the US, of a global consensus against Iran.
Lest we forget, during his pre-election campaign, French President Nicolas
Sarkozy stated, "The important thing in this [Iranian nuclear] crisis is to
maintain the firmness and the unity of the international community and its
determination to contain the risks of proliferation. This will determine my
action if elected."
Yet, in just a few months since his election, Sarkozy and his foreign-policy
team have managed to spread the risks of proliferation, in part by continuing
the previous French government's flawed nuclear-weapons policy and doctrine,
tantamount to reneging on Paris's disarmament obligations, and in part by
threatening other nations such as Iran.
Sarkozy's top concern, to "get France to be taken seriously again", per a
recent editorial in the Economist, must now be declared on the wrong path, due
to the simple yet inescapable fact that through their inadvisable statements on
Iran, both Sarkozy and Kouchner have harmed France's international image.
"I don't want it to be said that I am a warmonger," Kouchner has reacted to the
avalanche of European, Russian and Chinese criticisms of his televised comments
on Iran on September 14, but the damage has been done and it will take much
more effort on his and his government's part to fight that image.
Indeed, given Sarkozy's rush to forge new trans-Atlantic unity with the United
States, it is hardly surprising that France today is afflicted with the same
malady that has gripped the US over the past several years. In one of his
important foreign-policy speeches, Sarkozy has stated, "It is unthinkable for
Europe to forge its identity in opposition to the US." Yet, the reverse may be
true as well, given the history of the US's interventionism, its blind support
for Israel and its potentially disastrous arms-control policies.
Regarding the latter, former US president Jimmy Carter recently penned an
article in the Guardian of London, lamenting the US's policies, worth reading
by French officials:
By abandoning many of the nuclear arms agreements
negotiated in the last 50 years, the United States has been sending mixed
signals to North Korea, Iran and other nations with the technical knowledge to
create nuclear weapons. Currently proposed agreements with India compound this
quagmire and further undermine the global pact for peace represented by the
nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Unfortunately, it is the US's
and France's own nuclear policies and postures which have done much to
undermine the cause of non-proliferation, given Sarkozy's statement at the
Group of Eight summit in June that "the value of nuclear weapons is
deterrence". He added that "France's nuclear strategy and nuclear doctrine are
based on the protection of France's vital interests".
In other words, no "rupture" on this particular front with the self-described
"activist" French president, rather the sad continuity of the same doctrine
that arrogates to itself retaliation with nuclear weapons against conventional
attacks; France retains a significant nuclear capability and has been an
enthusiastic nuclear tester, with 210 tests to date.
Certainly, the French "want a president who acts and gets results", as Sarkozy
promised during his election campaigns, but the net result of his government
echoing Washington's and Israel's warmongering on Iran has been nothing but
negative for France's standing in the international community, as well as for
the much cherished "French values" that Sarkozy and company seem so intent on
Thus, instead of France's civilizing mission (la mission civilisatrice),
what we have is right-wing rhetoric, warranting a scolding by Russia's Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov, who rightly told his French counterpart last week, "We
are convinced no modern problem has a military solution, and that applies to
the Iranian nuclear program as well."
Surprisingly, a top US retired general, John Abizaid, has indirectly criticized
the French approach toward Iran by boldly stating that the world can learn to
live "with a nuclear Iran". His argument is that the Iranians are not
"suicidal" and would know that if they used their bombs against the US and/or
Israel, there would be dire consequences. Abizaid insists those are his
"private" views, yet given his high stature in the US military establishment
they carry a great deal of weight, much to the chagrin of Washington's hawks
seeking a war with Iran.
But then again, a problem with such statements is that they share with those
hawkish politicians and pundits the same perception that Iran is attempting
to develop nuclear weapons, irrespective of the lack of any viable evidence to
substantiate that perception. In fact, this is the one question most of the
world's media have not yet posed to Kouchner, who in his controversial comments
categorically stated, "Our Iranian friends want to build a civil nuclear
program. Everything they do seems to point to the contrary." 
But is this correct? Not so if one were to ask the IAEA officials who have made
extensive inspection of Iran's nuclear and non-nuclear facilities, and who have
placed under surveillance Iran's centrifuges in Natanz. Time and again, the
IAEA has confirmed the absence of any evidence of military diversion, and this
author has been told by a number of IAEA officials that as long as Iran abides
by the terms of its agreements with the IAEA, the agency will be able to detect
any diversion, such as misuse of the centrifuges for the production of
Yet, somehow, none of this seems to matter to the French, who are now trying to
bandwagon with some elements in the US to legitimize yet another unprovoked war
in the volatile Middle East in the name of combating weapons of mass
destruction. Such "illiberal interventionism" hardly sits well with the very
orientation of the Europe Union with respect to a peaceful foreign policy and
Kouchner is now seeking a unified European approach on Iran, but his quest for
"precise sanctions" against the country may have become a casualty of what the
BBC has described as "hardly diplomatic language". Already, Russia has gone on
record as opposing any new UN sanctions on Iran. This alone means that the
upcoming Security Council meeting on Iran could well experience a policy
deadlock, given Iran's new nuclear transparency (a "tell-all" agreement with
the IAEA) and the solid support of the majority of world's nations that are
members of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Thus, come next week's gathering of global leaders at the UN, Iran can take
advantage of the counter-French fallout of Kouchner's warmongering, for example
by indirectly strengthening Tehran's bid to convince the world that it must
accept Iran's rise to the status of a nuclear power.
Simultaneously, this new status confers on Iran a new challenge, that is, how
to act as a great power without the benefit of nuclear might, deemed as a
"weapon of the past" by Ahmadinejad. This Iran can manage by letting the world
know that unlike the states that have nuclear weapons, Iran does not intend to
utilize its knowledge to proliferate nuclear weapons and, while maintaining
that capability for national-security reasons, is more determined to use its
new clout to push vigorously for global nuclear disarmament.
After all, Iran has its own revolution-induced global mission, which sets it
apart from the "world domineering powers", to use terminology popular with
Ahmadinejad, who must nonetheless do more to propagate the peaceful mission and
purpose of Iranian power, perhaps by directly involving Iran in the UN's
peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.
France's isolation due to its blunders on Iran is an opportunity for Iran to
shine globally as a humanist leader in the crusade against the ultimate weapons
of destruction. And that means making more explicit the Islamist humanist
reservoir of the Iranian revolution of 1979, still pulsating in the country's
policy hierarchy, and still serving as a compass for foreign policy action,
partly buried under piles of militant rhetoric. The time for a new blossoming
of Iran's language of peace has arrived, thanks partially to the opposite
1. In contrast to the US, which has no shared economic interests with Iran due
to long-standing sanctions, France has strong ties with Iran. Several large
French companies have projects in Iran, including Renault SA, which this year
started production of its Logan model there, at an expected rate of 300,000
cars a year. Total SA, Europe's third-largest oil producer, owns a 30% stake in
a liquefied natural gas venture in Iran called Pars LNG. French banks in 2005
accounted for US$5.9 billion of the $25.4 billion in loans made to Iran by
lenders reporting to the Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of
"Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume
XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping
Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author
Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.