Cliff May

Well into last weekend it looked as though Iran was going to win the latest round of negotiations — by a knockout, not on points. Secretary of State John Kerry had flown to Geneva to sign a deal that would have stuffed tens of billions of dollars into the pockets of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, easing the economic pressure — the pressure that had brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. The funds would have been turned over with no restrictions. Khamenei could have used them to further Iran’s illicit nuclear-weapons program — the program that negotiations were meant to stop.

In exchange, Iran’s rulers would not have been required even to begin to dismantle their nuclear-weapons programs. There would be no end to centrifuge manufacturing, no halt to the plutonium-weapons track, no “intrusive” international inspections.

Then, at the eleventh hour, came an unexpected twist: French foreign minister Laurent Fabius announced that Paris could not go along with what he called — with admirably undiplomatic candor — a “sucker’s deal.” Immediately and predictably, Fabius and the French came under fire. One “Western diplomat close to the negotiations” blasted the French demurral as “nothing more than an attempt by Fabius to insert himself into relevance late in the negotiations.” It’s worth noting that (1) the Western diplomat did not address the substance of Fabius’s objections, and (2) the Western diplomat did not have the courage to allow his name to accompany his ad hominem attack.

Others accused the French of currying favor with the Saudis in an attempt to win lucrative contracts. In truth, the Saudis are concerned. They see clearly that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to them and to the Emiratis, the Qataris, the Kuwaitis, the Azerbaijanis, and, of course, the Israelis. The fact that France has some of the world’s foremost experts on both Iran and nuclear proliferation and the possibility that the French, over the past century, have learned a thing or two about the dangers of appeasement seem not to occur to those whose goal is to cut a deal with Iran — with the merits of that deal a secondary consideration.

Khamenei himself chimed in, tweeting that French officials were “hostile toward the Iranian nation.” Soon after came what might be interpreted as a warning: “A wise man, particularly a wise politician, should never have the motivation to turn a neutral entity into an enemy.”

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.