The global media is filled with warm images of Presidents Trump and Macron during their meeting in Washington. The two leader haves lavished praise on each other, embraced heartily and spoken enthusiastically of the special relationship between them.
However, the true purpose of Macron’s visit is no secret. The French premier is openly courting Trump to continue backing the 2015 nuclear deal between six international powers and Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Macron said on arrival in Washington, he sees no better option than the JCPOA. What Reuters describes as Macron’s “rescue mission” comes with a 12 May deadline looming for Trump to decide whether to restore US sanctions at the heart of the JCPOA, and effectively remove Washington’s support.
The media appears to have faithfully accepted Macron’s visit as a routine diplomatic mission, the kind of frank discussion between friends who happen to be two major world leaders. However, on closer inspection, Macron’s determined and forceful defence of the JCPOA seems at odds with both French precedent and plain logic.
For a start, by Macron’s own admission, Iran poses a danger in Syria. In the same breath as he championed the JCPOA, he also implored the United States to continue playing a role in Syria, or else “we will leave the floor to the Iranian regime, [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad and his guys.” Macron is clearly fully aware of Tehran’s nefarious regional ambitions. And yet, he appears to be doing the bidding of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif, who urged European leaders to “encourage Trump” to maintain the nuclear deal.
In addition, Macron’s fulsome protection of the JCPOA flies in the face of a traditionally tough French stance on the deal. When the agreement was being negotiated back in 2015, Paris was extremely sceptical over the accord which was taking shape. France’s Foreign Minister at the time, Laurent Fabius declared, “France wants an agreement, but a robust one that really guarantees that Iran can have access to civilian nuclear power, but not the atomic bomb.” Paris’ envoy to Washington warned against concluding a deal “at any price” while France’s Ambassador to the United Nations said that Iranian progress was “insufficient.”
Fast forward 3 years later and similar concerns could easily be raised now. Hasn’t the JCPOA proven to be “insufficient”? Tehran is still permitted a path towards dangerous atomic development, albeit a decade or so away. Its’ leaders threaten to restart enrichment within 48 hours, should the deal collapse – It is hardly evidence of a country shorn of its nuclear capability. Moreover, the nuclear agreement does nothing to prevent Iran’s development of ballistic missiles, and with it continuing the kind of regional aggression which Macron himself recognises as a danger.
So, what is behind the French insistence? It is impossible to ignore France’s eagerness to renew and foster economic relations with Iran since sanctions were eased in 2015. French exports to Iran for the first 11 months of 2017 rose 120 percent to 1.29billion euros, and imports grew 80 percent to 2.16billion euros. Last year, Iran signed an energy deal with French company Total, worth $5 billion. Paris has been especially quick to push open the trade door to Tehran, taking full financial advantage of the JCPOA.
But is this really motivation enough to push hard for a deal, over which even Paris itself has previously raised huge doubts? Is the lure of lucrative trade really sufficient reason to facilitate the wishes of a regime which proudly stands shoulder to shoulder with President Assad? Especially given how Tehran’s leaders choose to spend public money – Iran’s military budget increased by 128% over the last 4 years. Among other things, this money is being spent on arms development, regional military adventures and terror proxies. If Macron’s American charm offensive is designed to protect French investment in Iran, is this really the destination he has in mind?