France restricts travel by diplomats to Iran

Reuters – France has told its diplomats and foreign ministry officials to postpone indefinitely all non-essential travel to Iran, citing a foiled bomb plot and a hardening of Tehran’s attitude towards France, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.

Any hardening of relations with France could have wider implications for Iran. France has been one of the strongest advocates of salvaging a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of in May.

Iran’s economy has been hammered by the prospect of the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions that had been lifted under the deal. European countries including France have pledged to try to soften the economic blow, but have been unable so far to persuade their firms to defy Washington and stay in Iran.

French oil and gas major Total and its carmakers PSA and Renault have led an exodus of European companies from Iran, fearful of the extra-territorial reach of Washington’s sanctions.

The memo cites a foiled plot to bomb a rally held by an exiled Iranian opposition group near Paris that was attended by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani as a sign of Tehran’s more aggressive stance towards France.

“The behavior of the Iranian authorities suggests a hardening of their position vis-a-vis our country, as well as some of our allies,” Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, the ministry’s secretary general wrote in the notice dated Aug. 20.

French officials have not commented on the matter but diplomatic sources have said privately that if Iran’s involvement were proven then it would be difficult for France not to react strongly.

Since pulling out of the nuclear accord, Trump has expressed a readiness to negotiate a new deal while warning Tehran of dire consequences “the like of which few throughout history have suffered before” if it made threats against the United States.

It was Macron who led efforts to persuade Trump to stick with the agreement, arguing it was the best means Western powers had to check Iran’s nuclear activities.

Rouhani on Monday urged the remaining signatories to the nuclear agreement to act to save the pact.

Macron reiterated France’s commitment to maintaining the accord, but Europe’s leaders have appeared powerless to prevent the U.S. sanctions inflicting pain on Iran’s economy.

The ministry memo said any staffer who traveled to Iran for personal reasons would not be shielded by diplomatic immunity, even if holding a diplomatic passport. It made specific reference to tourism and language classes.

Britain’s foreign ministry said its advice on Iran to diplomats was the same as to the British public. It flags the risks of terrorist attacks and arbitrary detentions and advises against all travel to the frontiers with Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Peter Graff