Why France's Hard Line On Iran Is Smart Diplomacy

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was smart to reject a pact that offered no long-term guarantees for Iran to dismantle its nuclear program. A Le Monde editorial.

Fabius arrives in Geneva
Fabius arrives in Geneva


PARIS – All signs pointed to an impending agreement in Geneva between the six world powers (US, France, UK, Russia, China and Germany) and Iran on the issue of Tehran's nuclear program. More than 10 years after the beginning of this crisis, it seemed a solution was within reach. Two elements in particular had nurtured this perception. One was the intense media campaign of Iran's optimistic Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The other was John Kerry's impromptu trip to Geneva to join the negotiators, interrupting his Middle-East tour.

But one major obstacle came to disturb this diplomatic choreography: France opposed an interim deal, judging it insufficient. For his own last-minute arrival in Geneva, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius slammed "the initial text which we don't accept." On Sunday, the summit ended without a deal, putting negotiations on hold until November 20.

So what happened? Let's rewind a bit. Barack Obama, who was reelected just one year ago, is hoping to make a historical breakthrough with Iran, a pivotal actor across a range of issues in the Middle East. He wants to seize the opportunity given by the election in June of Hassan Rouhani, a "moderate" President.

Rouhani himself is eager to obtain a lifting of the sanctions that have strangled the Iranian economy. According to Fabius, the "initial text" he mentioned was the result of negotiations between the United States and Iran prior to the Geneva meeting. The French delegation reckoned that what was asked of Iran did not go far enough, especially with regards to the production of plutonium.

Fool's game

It's not the first time that France has shown particular firmness on this issue. Since the mid-2000s, its line hasn't budged, despite having changed Presidents twice in the meantime. This time, it is François Hollande's diplomacy that got the better of Barack Obama's. Coming just two months after the falling out between the two powers on Syria, this is far from being insignificant. France's stance has been described as being aligned with Israel's, which was fiercely opposed to Geneva producing a "bad" agreement on Iran's nuclear program.

It would be too simplistic to say that France is an obstacle standing in the way of negotiations. Instead, it stands firm in its role as the guardian of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. At the same time, it seems to be cautioning Obama's team for being hasty. France is convinced that before loosening the economic noose that led Iran to the negotiating table, there must be lasting guarantees that this country won't produce atomic weapons.

France is wary of a "fool's game," according to Fabius's own formulation. It holds a trump card: the impossibility of lifting any major sanctions without unanimous European approval. Paris strongly believes that inflexibility is key if world powers are to prevent a military scenario against Iran. It is a stance based on firm conviction, though one which could present a risk of isolation. Next step, November 20.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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