When Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made an official visit to Paris last week, the lack of governmental pomp was telling.
When a foreign delegation – from even the tiniest country – meets with France’s foreign minister, the minister is always waiting smilingly to receive them, as a good host should. This reception always takes place outside and with plenty of shiny soldiers around, so the press can produce images which display French power.
The Iranian delegation, however, was hidden away and made to wait in a room deep inside the Quai d’Orsay building. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius finally arrived, the snub clear to the surprisingly small number of waiting journalists. Fabius clearly does not realize what a premium the Iranian culture places on being a good host.
The French media barely covered the visit, the first such high-level meeting since 2009, despite the fact that it came during the same week as the second round of Iran and P5+1 talks in Geneva.
And those talks, as we all know by now, have been torpedoed at the behest of France. By surprisingly backtracking on previously accepted agreements, France ignored a tremendous amount of international desire for a solution that was on the cusp of completion.
France near the top of anti-Iranian governments
Many might have expected that the US or the UK would pull the rug out from the international community on any subject concerning Iran’s détente with the West, but France.
Yes, France. For years France has been the most anti-Iranian nation in the EU, and perhaps even more so than the US. Despite the hope that this would change with the parting of Sarkozy “l’Americain”, the recent actions in Geneva seems to confirm that the administration of Francois Hollande will maintain a fanatically hard-line approach to Iran worthy of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Despite all their talk about being the birthplace of human rights and the like, years of reporting in France have led me to conclude that France is Machiavellian to a degree worthy of imperial Rome.
France has no intention of aiding Iran, because it has nothing to gain, much to lose and because it is blinded by the overwhelming presence of anti-Iranian radicals.
Payback for Syria
When France refused to join the US-led war in Iraq, many thought that France had turned a corner in its relations with MENA (Middle East/North Africa). After all, France, long ago booted out of Algeria, was no longer stationing its armies in the Muslim world (except Lebanon and Afghanistan) and it seemingly passed up a ripe chance to boost the profits of national oil giant Total. Of course, it is still fomenting coups and forcing elections in many heavily-Muslim African countries south of the Sahara (see Mali, 2013), but at the time many chose to focus on the positive.
However, Iraq was never in the French sphere of influence – it was strictly British – and so France had little to gain by invading. It is the same situation in Iran: France doesn’t view Iran as potential partner because the Sarkozy-led anti-Iranian sanctions have drastically reduced trade between the two countries, and pushed Iran to pivot towards the East.
Recognition for Iran would, in fact, only strengthen France’s competitors: China, India and maybe even the US and Britain, given the fact that Iranians speak overwhelmingly more English than French.
France also sells tens of billions of euros worth of weapons to Persian Gulf nations, and that kind of business has made France a proxy for Saudi Arabia and especially Qatar, which has a real love affair with all things French, and not just the Paris-Saint Germain football club.
Ending the Cold War on Iran would also hurt allies like Israel and the corrupt scions of non-Hezbollah Lebanon. If Iran is not pigeonholed into a pariah, it would openly compete with France’s influence in Lebanon, which is massive and hugely profitable for French corporations.
Syria, a much larger prize than Lebanon, used to be hugely in France’s political, economic and cultural sphere, and Paris wants that to return.
That’s why French planes were hours away from bombing Damascus, until the US changed their mind, due to the overwhelming, near-total international condemnation. This imperialist lust also explains why France was the first nation to recognize the Syrian opposition, and to a degree even Persian Gulf nations have not yet accepted.
With their long-awaited goal of ousting the anti-imperialist Assad regime and re-establishing themselves in Syria now thwarted, France is not in a mood to end Iran’s isolation.
But for those who believe selfish national self-interest is an appropriate guiding principle for foreign policy, France’s motivations for isolating Iran do clearly go beyond French resentment over Syria.
Powerless French Muslims, Zionists & MKO
France is the largest Muslim country in the EU, but what influence does this community have which could play a role in détente with Iran? Almost none at all.
More than 90% of Muslims voted for Hollande in the 2012 presidential election – they overwhelmingly tell me they admire Iran’s success and oppose Israel – but why should Hollande try and please them when they are already in his pocket? And this is not a rich community that has any soft power, either – this is a group which populates the poorest areas of the nation (not counting the Roma of course, who live in a completely different world from everyone else).
Besides, where else would Muslim voters go – the conservative UMP party? The party which wants to deport grandma and keep mosques in the basement? The party which must count plenty of aging Nazi collaborators among their members?
Progress is there, sort of: people of North African descent finally made it into a presidential cabinet – three paltry junior ministers.
But openly imperialist Zionists, on the other hand, occupy nearly all the top positions in Hollande’s cabinet: the interior, finance and, of course, the foreign minister. The prime minister and defense minister are the only two among the government’s top jobs who probably don’t have Israeli citizenship.
Such a lack of diversity is almost laughable, and certainly contributes to the obvious presence of a closed intellectual circle surrounding Hollande. The problem is, of course, not the fact that these top three ministers are Jewish: The problem for Iran is that they are Zionists. (It can’t be said enough that Iran is proud to boast of supporting the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world.)
But with such one-sided thinking dominating the government’s internal debates, it is not surprising that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius reneged on previous agreements to pull the rug out from under everyone in Geneva. His reasoning: "It is necessary to take fully into account Israel’s security concerns and those of the region…."”
And the lack of pro-Iranian counterpoints in French society does not stop there: France is the second home of the terrorist Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), a group of fifth columnists who have absolutely no legitimacy to any Iranian for reasons it takes only seconds to comprehend: they fought with Saddam Hussein against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.
But a poster of the ringleader of this bizarre cult, Marjane Rajavi, was recently all over Paris to advertise her new book. And they are supported by the French government to the extent that they have been mistakenly removed from the EU’s terrorist list.
No stopping the anti-Iran discourse in France
This is who has influence in France’s corridors of power – groups which care little for the average Iranian’s well-being, or for international justice that contradicts French interests.
When we understand just how strong anti-Iranian sentiment is among the French elite, and how little influence France’s huge Muslim community has, one wonders how long it will take for France to adopt a more neutral policy towards Iran?
What levers are there to push things which are already so far gone in one direction? When Iran has to rely on the US and the UK to rein in France’s radical stance, we should realize that Paris has gone off the deep end.
And when you combine Iran’s economic rise and their opposition to France’s support for dozens of imperialist projects and illegitimate dictators, it’s no wonder that France and Iran are fighting tooth and nail.
But ahhh … la belle France … home of human rights and republicanism and all that. It is a nice country – to look at, certainly. But expecting France to play fair – history both recent and distant indicates that this is a fool’s expectation.
Unfortunately for many around the world, France’s actions in Geneva indicate that Paris is hoping to extend, not end, the West’s Cold War against Iran.
By Ramin Mazaheri