Zarif & Hollande

Iran, France cooperation not rising above political level

Following the conclusion of Iran’s nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group of countries and subsequent to removal of sanctions, which had been imposed on Iran under the pretext of the country’s nuclear activities, we are now facing new times and a new atmosphere in relations between Iran and the European Union.

In line with this development, relations between Tehran and Paris have undergone positive changes and the two countries are moving toward improvement of relations and expansion of cooperation. It must be noted that relations between Iran and France have gone through many developments in past year and have seen a lot of ups and down during the post-revolution era. Despite the positive view that Iranians held of France in early years after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, this country took sides with Iraq during eight years of Iraqi imposed war on Iran, as a result of which, relations between the two countries were downgraded.

After the war, Iran’s relations with France started to gradually pick up and French investors were present in Tehran, until imposition of unjust sanctions on Iran and France’s treatment of those sanctions, once again, deprived Paris of advantages of cordial ties with Tehran. The period following conclusion of Iran’s nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the positive international atmosphere built around the Islamic Republic of Iran has caused France not to be able to regulate its policies toward Iran in the same way that it did in past years.

They are now considering Iran as one of the most important powers in the region, which can play an effective role in the resolution of the Middle East crises and enjoys great influence in this regard. The French are now grappling with the threat of Daesh terrorism and have suffered losses in this regard and know that they cannot take an effective step to fight Daesh and eradicate this terrorist group in the absence of Iran. On the other hand, France, like many other European countries, is currently grappling with many economic problems and this situation has prompted the French to think about the advantages of economic cooperation with Iran.

At present, the French consider Iran as an attractive market with a population of 80 million, which can also serve as a gateway for export of their commodities to peripheral regions. On the other hand, Iran is one of the biggest suppliers of energy in the world and due to high demand on the part of France to procure energy for its industrial sector, officials in this country consider themselves obligated to take steps toward improvement of relations and more closeness with Iran. Of course, it must be noted that this need is not one-sided and Iran, for its part, needs France’s investment and high-level technology in order to get out of its current economic situation. These issues cause both Tehran and Paris not to be able to ignore each other. In this regard, during the post-JCPOA period, there have been high diplomatic exchanges between the two countries in different fields, examples of which were a visit to Tehran by the former French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, and a visit to Paris by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.

Despite measures taken by Tehran and Paris to improve relations, boost cooperation and expand ties, the effect of these measures have not been evident in the two countries’ relations up to the present time. In other words, despite diplomatic exchanges between the two countries’ officials and frequent visits to Iran by French delegations, we have seen that the determination to boost relations and expand cooperation has remained limited to political level and it has not been very much evident in economic relations between the two countries. It seems that lack of any tangible change in previous economic relations between the two countries despite existence of necessary political will has its roots in doubts and ambiguities, which are remnants of the sanctions period. In other words, French industries and banks are facing the same situation and dilemma with which other advanced industries and major banks in Europe have been grappling with regard to having relations with Iran and cooperating with this country. During the sanctions years, we witnessed that the United States’ Department of Treasury, considered heavy penalties for European banks due to their cooperation with Iran as a result of which a bank in the French capital, Paris, was fined USD 9 billion and paid it.

The remaining fear about cooperation with Iran and getting fined for it under other excuses has caused this issue, unlike many other issues which have been relatively resolved in the post-JCPOA period, to remain unresolved up to the present day. On the other hand, the US Treasury Department has not provided European banks with necessary permits and guarantees so far.

However, Iran’s Foreign Ministry, along with other concerned organs, has taken necessary measure with regard to this problem and there have been openings in this case, but those openings are not commensurate to Iran’s expectations. It seems that Iran’s foreign minister has allocated a large part of his consultations during his recent visit to France to this issue. In his trip to Paris, Mohammad Javad Zarif tried to dispel doubts of French industries and banks for cooperation with Iran and investment in the country, and get them out of their current dire straits. He tried to build necessary confidence and provide necessary incentives to French investors. On the other hand, during his trip to France, Zarif reminded Paris, as one of the most important members of the P5+1 group, of its obligations with regard to the JCPOA. Iran’s top diplomat also asked French officials to increase their efforts and mount pressure on the United States to abide by its JCPOA obligations.

Consultation on regional issues between Mohammad Javad Zarif and French officials was another topic in his negotiations with his French counterpart in Paris. Following the conclusion of the JCPOA and in view of dire conditions in the region and frequent terrorist attacks by Daesh in France, hopes have been rising about cooperation between Tehran and Paris, as two important regional and transregional actors in the Middle East. When it comes to establishing stability and promoting peace in the region and also in their fight against terrorism, Iran and France have many common interests, but this issue, like economic cooperation, has not reached a decisive stage up to the present time.

It seems that there are many problems, which have prevented such cooperation from being realized in practice. These problems constitute a wide range from confusion of the French in their positions and strategy to widespread economic cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other littoral countries of the Persian Gulf. In other words, France has special relations and exchanges with many littoral countries of the Persian Gulf and this issue has overshadowed its regional cooperation with Iran.

By Iran Review