One day after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called upon the government of Turkey to halt the offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria, the government of France spoke out about the state of Syrian affairs, highlighting the hypocrisy of Rouhani’s criticism coinciding with the continued presence of Iranian forces and militant proxies in the war-devastated region.
According to Reuters, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke via television on Tuesday to call attention to the violations of international law that are being perpetrated in Syria by both Iran and Turkey. When asked about Turkish incursions into Kurdish-held regions, Le Drian responded by urging, “the withdrawal of all of those who ought not to be in Syria, including Iranian militias, including Hezbollah.”
The French foreign minister used the same occasion to emphasize the emergence of evidence pointing to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s renewed use of chlorine gas against rebel groups and civilian populations. Such reports have been a recurring issue throughout the seven-year Syrian Civil War and a source of condemnation for the Assad government, which is also believed to have deployed the nerve agent sarin on at least two occasions.
Le Drian connected Assad’s human rights violations to violations of international law both by the dictator’s Iranian-affiliated allies and by his adversaries in Ankara. Reuters notes that this criticism comes at a time when the foreign minister and his government are making a concerted effort to negotiate with Tehran over the future of Syria, but also at a time when French attitudes toward the Islamic Republic seem to be strengthening, perhaps in response to pressure from Washington.
Le Drian is due for talks with Iranian officials on March 5, but French delegates recently accompanied representatives of the other United Nations Security Council member states on a trip to Washington to examine weapons components supposedly supplied to regional proxies by Tehran. In that wake of that visit, it was reported that France, along with the United Kingdom and Germany, had committed to working with the United States on plans to exert greater pressure on Iran over its missile activities and over perceived weaknesses in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Reuters notes that relations between France and Iran have accordingly deteriorated in recent months, with officials like Le Drian becoming more forthright in their accusations about Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the broader Middle East.
previously highlighted those ambitions in the context of Tehran’s efforts to criticize Turkey while justifying the foreign operations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah, and others.
But despite the vocal commentary emerging from Paris on these issues, there are other, contradictory trends that underscore concerns among Iran’s critics about the possibility of European policymakers pushing back against US pressure and maintaining cooperative relations with the Iranian regime. The Iran Project provided an example of one such trend on Wednesday when it reported that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was scheduled to head a delegation heading to the French capital for the second annual Euromoney Conference.
The report declares that that conference “will showcase the vast investment opportunities which Iran offers in capital markets, oil and gas, aviation, automotive, tourism and insurance.”Despite taking a particularly hard line with Iran in nuclear negotiations prior to the summer of 2015, France was among the first to capitalize on the conclusion of those negotiations by pursuing new trade agreements with the Islamic Republic. The report of Iranian attendance at the Euromoney Conference comes about one week after it was announced that France was setting up mechanisms to facilitate the purchase of Iranian goods while bypassing the threat of US sanctions.
In this sense, France’s political posture toward Tehran appears markedly different from its economic posture, potentially setting up a situation in which the two trends come into open conflict. As the White House continues to push for more European cooperation with hardline policies toward the Islamic Republic, many business interests throughout Europe continue to push back. European policymakers, meanwhile, have tended toward defense of the nuclear deal that has been decried by the Trump administration as the “worst deal ever,” although they have shown rising levels of agreement with Trump’s criticism of Iranian missile activities and regional meddling.
Against the backdrop of these competing interests, it remains to be seen whether and to what extent the French government will continue exerting pressure on Iran over those latter issues, including during Le Drian’s prospective visit to Tehran next month.