France leading effort against Iran?

posted at 1:05 pm on October 1, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

How long before the French start calling Americans “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”?  All right, I admit it will probably be “cheeseburger-eating,” but the opportunity for payback may exist if Nicolas Sarkozy continues to take the lead in pushing Iran on compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation pact.  The Washington Post reports that Sarkozy has become frustrated with a weak American and Western approach and wants more robust action against Tehran:

Under President Nicolas Sarkozy, France has adopted an increasingly hard-edged approach to Iran, often out ahead of the Obama administration with uncompromising language criticizing Iranian leaders and warning that their nuclear program threatens world peace.

The French attitude reflects Sarkozy’s assessment that acquiescing to unsupervised nuclear development by Tehran would be perilous, risking an Israeli attack on Iranian installations and increasing instability in the Middle East. In addition, French analysts said, Sarkozy feels that Europe got nowhere with Iran in several years of what was called “constructive dialogue” and that it is time to move on to stronger measures in tandem with Washington.

As a result, French diplomats at a crucial meeting Thursday in Geneva are likely to push for swift, punitive sanctions unless Iran pledges unequivocally to open its entire nuclear program to international inspection to ensure Tehran is not developing atomic weapons. Jean-Pierre Maulny, a specialist in European defense at the Paris-based Institute for International and Strategic Relations, said Germany and Britain are likely to agree because they also feel the constructive dialogue bore no fruit and, to some extent, have been aligned with Paris.

The tough new French approach marks a clear change from the days of Presidents Jacques Chirac and George W. Bush, when France was often a reluctant U.S. ally compared with Britain and Germany. In contrast, Sarkozy in recent weeks has used a sharper tone than have British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — and President Obama — in denouncing Iran’s nuclear program and advocating sanctions to force Tehran to allow inspectors in. …

Sarkozy’s fundamental position — seek dialogue but impose stronger sanctions unless Iran opens its nuclear program to international inspection — dovetails neatly with the stances of Obama and other major U.S. allies, Heisbourg and French officials said. But his recent public comments have suggested impatience with Obama’s extended-hand policy and a conviction that the time has come to deal firmly with Tehran’s nuclear program.

France and Sarkozy are not likely to be happy with this development, then:

A senior U.S. diplomat and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator met one on one Thursday in Geneva in what appeared to be the highest-level official contact between the countries since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

The meeting between Undersecretary of State William Burns and the Iranian, Saeed Jalili , took place during a break in negotiations at a villa outside Geneva among the United States , Iran and five other nations.

It was announced by State Department spokesman Robert Wood , who offered no other details.

This follows the decision by the Obama administration to allow the Iranian foreign minister, Manoucher Mottaki, to visit Washington DC.  Even when traveling on UN business, the US has blocked Iranian diplomats from access to the capital for the past 30 years.  The unclenched fist has yet to meet with an outstretched hand from the Iranians, but Tehran is getting plenty of mileage from it nonetheless.

If Sarkozy has gotten impatient with the US and the West on Iran, these developments will increase his frustration.  It gives the mullahcracy more legitimacy and another opportunity to play Western allies against each other, which is one reason why George Bush stuck with France and the UK in earlier diplomatic efforts rather than open a direct dialogue.  It undermines Sarkozy’s efforts to get tougher on sanctions, at least in the short term, and allows Iran to continue its defiance on IAEA inspections and full transparency.  After all, they’re getting more and more access without having to offer any concessions — so why should they consider any?

Of course, this strategy from Obama could defy expectations and the entire historical record on the success of appeasement.  Obama had better hope it produces spectacular results.  Otherwise, if nothing has changed in a few months, Obama will look even more like a naïf on the world stage, and the West will have lost even more time that it can’t afford in stopping Iranian nuclear weapons.

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