from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

M. Hollande’s Bad Start with Iran

May 14, 2012

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Francois Hollande is not even president of France yet but France’s tough position on the Iranian nuclear program already looks weaker.

Today the former French prime minister Michel Rocard is in Tehran meeting with top officials including the foreign minister and the nuclear negotiator. As this trip comes only days after Hollande’s victory, and as Rocard is like Hollande from the Socialist Party, it is hard to believe there was zero coordination or that Rocard would have gone if Hollande had asked him not to. If that is indeed the case, let us hope M. Hollande says so, and fast.

It is difficult to exaggerate how significant a softening of France’s hard line would be. France has been tougher than Russia and China of course, but has also stiffened the position of the "EU 3" by being tougher than Germany and the UK. More important, it has at many junctures been tougher than the United States, sharply asking the difficult questions, highlighting logical deficiencies in arguments, and slicing through wishful thinking. If France is now to abandon this stance and simply agree with the UK, Germany, and the United States, the negotiations with Iran are more likely than ever to produce an unsatisfactory result that will be labelled adequate by its proponents.

Perhaps M. Hollande will clarify that Rocard was asked not to go and carried no message with him. If not, the defeat of President Sarkozy will be seen to have an immediate and harmful effect on France’s hitherto tough line on the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

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