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The Nuclear Negotiations
Europeans Talk Tough As Next Iran Deadline Looms

Another deadline looms in the Iran nuclear negotiations tonight. Several previous cycles of tough talk followed by can-kicking have made most observers skeptical of U.S. promises to either sign or walk, but this time the tough talk is coming from an unexpected quarter. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers have reached the make-or-break point, European officials said, warning the diplomacy could fail if there is no final agreement by Monday night.

The comments by senior European diplomats in Austria’s capital on Sunday suggested a divergence from Washington on the way forward with Tehran. […]

If a deal isn’t reached by Monday night, a European official said there was “no way” the negotiations can continue.

It’s at least little shocking to see America’s European partners suddenly telling Washington to grow a spine. Admittedly, the “Europeans” are far from a monolithic bloc: the negotiations involve representatives from the UK, France, and Germany, plus the EU itself and various European-staffed international bodies. Each has different, sometimes divergent, reasons for wanting the talks to be over. Some are more wary of Iran than the Obama Administration. Others want to profit from the end of sanctions. And at least some of this talk—likely a great deal of it—is just posturing.

But it’s interesting that the French are mentioned and quoted so prominently:

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated in Vienna over the weekend that Paris believed Iran had been given enough time to make the political decisions needed to conclude an agreement.

“Now that everything is on the table, the moment has come to decide,” he told reporters on Saturday.

In the past, French officials have said that if Iran wasn’t willing to strike a deal now, negotiations could go on hold until Tehran, which is eager to win major sanctions relief, proves more amenable to a deal.

For the last year, France has grown steadily closer to Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states in general. Part of this came from self-interest—suddenly there were large Saudi arms purchases from France—but much of it reflects the historic distance the Obama Administration has put between the U.S. and its traditional regional allies. France seems closer to them—and tougher in the negotiations—by comparison to the U.S.

The French, the Saudis, and other parties who want the Obama Administration to take a tougher line have a weak hand of cards to play. But through the French and broader European delegations, they at least have a seat at the table. It looks like they might have chosen their moment to tell Washington to either call Iran’s bluff, or fold.

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  • Ellen

    The French may finally be doing something that looks like it’s out of principle. But, as is almost always the case with France, watch the money trail. Saudi Arabia is burning through its overseas assets at a incredible pace, and there are many beneficiaries. One happens to be the declining country of France. They are selling weapons systems to Saudi – that has already been announced. But there probably was a quid pro quo stuck in that sales contract. We buy $10 billion worth of French fighter jets that no one else wants to buy on the grounds that you destroy the 6-party consensus vote for the Iran deal. To destroy the consensus you only need one no vote. And France, which is not even a great power anymore, has a seat at the table and can vote no.

    So, that might explain the French spinal cord on this particular issue. Putin was just offered $10 billion in Saudi investments in Russia’s dying economy, but may parlay that in other ways (ie, refusing to sell spare parts for the Syrian air force).

    The Saudis may be a declining power in the Levant, but their money can still buy friends for the time being.

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