The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

The French president’s visit to served to demonstrate Macron’s importance as a dynamic and proactive European player, and as a partner in the effort to curb Iran’s strategic ambitions.

The French president’s visit in Washington was another sign of the surprising personal friendship he has been able to forge with President Trump. It also served to demonstrate Macron’s importance as a dynamic and proactive player in the problematic political realities of today’s Europe, and as a partner in the effort to curb Iran’s strategic ambitions.

His messages on Iran – following his working session with Trump, in his speech before the two houses of Congress, and in media interviews – have admittedly been subject to a variety of interpretations. Some of Obama’s ardent acolytes, who still look upon the nuclear deal with Iran (the JCPOA) as a brilliant or at least a necessary diplomatic achievement, were quick to latch on to Macron’s call not to abandon the agreement before a better and more substantive alternative is found. On the other hand, those who strongly endorse Trump’s position (a “terrible” agreement…), took note – with a sense of accomplishment – that Macron now supports establishing a “new deal” with Iran, and is willing to admit that the flawed existing agreement left major concerns unanswered.

The Iranian leadership, in any case – in line with their feverish reaction, reflected also by Hizbullah, to the French participation in the air strike in Syria – have already chosen to declare in unambiguous terms that they will not accept any new deal that does not serve the Iranian interests well. President Rohani, normally charged with expressing more refined diplomatic messages, even wondered aloud as to how can a benighted real estate hustler like Trump compound with “a certain European country” and seek to determine terms, willfully ignoring Iran’s adamant refusal to reopen the deal for negotiations.

It is this aggressive Iranian response which actually indicates the real meaning of what happened during Macron’s talks in Washington. True, he has held to his position, namely, that the JCPOA should not be abandoned (and the nuclear-related sanctions should not be renewed, at least at this stage). But at the same time, he also outlined a four-legged table, with the preservation of the JCPOA in its present form being just one of them. The others are increased pressure (i.e. specific sanctions) over Iran’s ballistic missile program (a program which makes little sense, in military terms, unless it is designed to deliver weapons of mass destruction. Second, the use of varied leverages to restrain Iran’s vaulting regional ambitions. Third, a demand for the immediate launching of fresh negotiations over what would happen by the middle of the next decade, when the present limitations now imposed by the JCPOA on uranium enrichment in Iran will totally expire.

In each and every one of the last three legs – and naturally, above all, on the question of the Iranian regime’s regional conduct – this French position is in line with the expectations of the Arab Gulf states, headed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It is also in line with the positions and fears of Israel, which shares their perspective on the Iranian threat and their anger at the flaws of the JCPOA. The broadening trade relationships – and in particular the huge order placed by the UAE with “Airbus” – surely adds to the affinity of views and the emergence of a firm French stand towards Iran (and towards Asad and Hizbullah).

Even before he left for the U.S., Macron made it clear that he supports taking measures against Iran due to the ballistic missile program as well as because of regional subversion. He then took a step beyond this limit – which to some extent proves (once again) that Trump, with his peculiarities, is able to maneuver his interlocutor and obtain an important outcome. What Macron did in Washington was to join the demand for a renewed negotiation over the unlimited