Iran Nuclear NewsFrance plays unaccustomed role: diplomatic hawk

France plays unaccustomed role: diplomatic hawk


ImageWall Street Journal: Once the world's self-proclaimed international mediator, France is now trying its hand at pit-bull diplomacy with Iran. The Wall Street Journal


ImagePARIS — Once the world's self-proclaimed international mediator, France is now trying its hand at pit-bull diplomacy with Iran.

A day after Iran made apparent concessions on its nuclear program at talks in Geneva, France tried to maintain pressure on the Tehran, saying it must prove by December that it isn't building a nuclear weapon or face sanctions.

Like the U.S. and Russia, France said Iran's agreement to allow international inspectors into a uranium-enrichment facility in northern Iran and to transfer its nuclear fuel to other countries for enrichment is a step in the right direction. But Paris insisted that more needed to be done.

"By December, Iran must answer the questions of the international community with concrete acts," France's Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valéro told reporters Friday.

The comment highlights the increasingly, and surprisingly, hawkish role being played by France as the world looks to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions. In 2003, France led international efforts to try to dissuade the U.S. from launching a war against Iraq. In a speech to the United Nations, then Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said that although war might seem like an easy option, rebuilding peace and preserving Iraq's unity would be an even harder battle. "Let's face it: It will be long and difficult," he said.

With Tehran, Paris has long favored dialogue. France hosted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for several months before he became the father of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In the early 1990s, France succeeded in settling a protracted dispute related to Iran's financial investment in a French nuclear project — which France no longer deemed compatible with the line of Iran's clerics.

Now, however, President Nicolas Sarkozy is taking a much tougher line. During Iran's presidential elections in June, Mr. Sarkozy was among the first heads of state of a Western country to criticize Iran's leaders, saying the vote had been tarnished by "fraud." In August, the French president said Iran deserved a better leader than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"With his nondiplomatic language, Mr. Sarkozy has taken the lead of a crusade against Iran," said Karim Pakzad, an analyst with the Institute of International & Strategic Relations. "But France lacks the breadth to pursue such an aggressive policy."

Mr. Sarkozy has been a hawk since he took office in 2007. At the time, it didn't stand out because it was in line with that of former U.S. President George W. Bush. Now, however, it contrasts sharply with the U.S. line because the Obama administration has shed references to "rogue states" and pledged to focus on dialogue with Iran.

Analysts say France began changing its approach in 2005 when it perceived Tehran was allegedly trying to destabilize Lebanon — where France has large interests. Jacques Chirac, French president at the time, urged the U.N. to adopt sanctions against Iran. A first set of U.N. sanctions was passed in December 2006.

Mr. Sarkozy's tougher stance has made Paris Tehran's new diplomatic enemy. Last month, Mr. Ahmadinejad criticized Mr. Sarkozy for meddling in Iran's domestic affairs. "France deserves better leaders than its current ones," the Iranian president told France 2 television channel from New York, where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly.

—Marc Champion contributed to this article.

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