What Comes After French FM’s Iran Visit

Monday’s Tehran visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is startling a wide variety of responses, especially from inside Iran.

Kayhan daily, known as the mouthpiece of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, ran a piece titled “French Foreign Minister heading to Tehran with a JCPOA-2 hat,” using the acronym for the Iran nuclear deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, while describing Paris’ efforts to impose further setbacks upon Iran’s regime.

The semi-official Ruydad 24 website in Iran writes, “The JCPOA, ballistic missile program and Iran’s role in the region are of the most important challenges before Iran, Europe, the United States and Middle East countries.”

This is what concerns Tehran the most, being crystal clear the Europeans would never side with Iran over the U.S.

Seeking to raise the stakes prior Le Drian’s visit, Tehran on Monday announced it enjoys the capability of producing higher enriched uranium within two days if Washington’s abandons ship on the 2015 nuclear deal between.

“If America pulls out of the deal … Iran could resume its 20 percent uranium enrichment in less than 48 hours,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told al-Alam TV.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Le Drian will be merely involved in discussions and there are no negotiations involved. France’s official position says otherwise.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program, with a range of a few thousand kilometers, is definitely non-consistent with United Nations Security Council resolutions and goes beyond Iran’s need to defend its borders,” Le Drian said in an interview with the French daily Le Journal du Dimanche.

“If this dilemma is not resolved directly, Iran will be facing the threat of new sanctions,” he added.

France is leading Europe in talks with Iran and it is very likely Le Drian discussed with Iran’s officials the conditions raised by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The U.S. has asked France to lay Trump’s conditions before Iran. European countries have confirmed these conditions,” according to the semi-officials Fars news agency, said to be linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

In his meeting with Le Drian, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s remarks vividly displayed Tehran’s deep concerns about the JCPOA’s future.

“The JCPOA is a litmus test for all parties and its dismantling will bring disappointment for everyone,” Rouhani said.

We must also take into consideration the timing of Le Drian’s visit, coming prior to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, in which Iran was the main issue of talks.

Two weeks later Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to Washington where Iran’s regional meddling will most likely be discussed. Tehran’s role in Syria has raised major concerns.

“…if we don’t push Iran out and come up with an agreement in Geneva that gives Syria back to the Syrians. This war never ends. So, Mr. President it’s just not about defeating ISIL. If you leave Syria in the hands of Russia and the Iranians this war never ends,” said Senator Lindsey Graham in a recent interview.

Finally, Trump will be hosting his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, as the leader of Europe in regards to the JCPOA.

As a result, the objective of Le Drian’s visit to Iran can be described as placing Trump’s significant pressures and imposing his conditions. Tehran will most definitely be concerned, knowing all meetings will evolve in Trump’s talks with Macron in Washington. Two weeks later Trump will announce his decision on the JCPOA.

This leaves Tehran before a particular dilemma. Succumbing to the new conditions set to preserve the JCPOA will deliver a strategic setback, being, to say the least, significantly curbing its ballistic missile program and Middle East influence. Iran considers these two pillars its pride and regional strategy depth.

Choosing to reject Washington’s conditions, however, will most certainly lead to the return of crippling sanctions for Tehran.

Add to this dilemma the ongoing protest staged by Iranians across the country. This goes alongside calls for further nationwide protests next Tuesday, marking the country’s annual “Fire Festivities” held on the last Tuesday night of the Iranian calendar before inviting in the new year.

Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) has issued a call for a nationwide uprising to mark this celebration. Senior Iranian officials have acknowledged how the PMOI/MEK organized the recent flare of protests across the country.

Tehran’s troubles are only beginning.


Will Iran’s Troubles In Yemen Propagate Elsewhere?

Recent developments in Yemen and the killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has highlighted what Iran has sought long to cloak. Tehran’s campaign in Saudi Arabia’s backyard has stumbled upon major political and military setbacks, providing the opportunity for Washington to correct a policy in need of strong amending.

How the future unfolds in Yemen has the potential of sparking a series of major defeats for Iran across the region, spilling into the country’s shaky politics and fueling further domestic unrest.

Senior Iranian officials, however, have gone the distance to portray Saleh’s death as a step forward against their regional archrivals, mainly Saudi Arabia.

Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari described it as the end of a “sedition” or “treason.”

Ali Akbar Velayati, the international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, even described Saleh as the agent of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who deserved such a fate.

The two, considered members of Khamenei’s inner circle, describe the latest events in Yemen as a conspiracy. The bigger picture, however, reveals a major rout for Khamenei’s ambitions in the Arabian Peninsula.

Saleh’s forces have separated from the Iran-backed Houthis, depriving Tehran of a large bulk of vital manpower on the ground. Saleh enjoyed the support of a large segment of the armed forces, many tribes and the Popular Congress Party with all its branches in cities across Yemen.

The Houthis, being a militia entity, have now lost this key source of support and legitimacy for their cause. To add insult to injury for Iran, a large portion of Saleh loyalists have pledged allegiance to the Saudi-led coalition, providing crucial ground forces and intelligence to their effort against the Houthis.

Huthi supporters brandish their weapons during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 8, 2017. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Muslim and Arab countries across the world to protest against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians. / MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

This renders meaningless Iran’s claims of now enjoying full control over Sanaa. Even after Saleh’s death Iran sought to seal all resulting rifts in Yemen’s landscape, understanding the meaning of losing Saleh’s boots. This can also be considered a signal of the Houthis’ fragile and vulnerable status quo.

It is safe to say these turn of events have terminated any hope of negotiations for the Houthis, as they have revealed their true nature. It has become crystal clear for all parties in Yemen, and across the Middle East, of the fate awaiting those who mingle with Tehran. To begin with, Yemen’s long slate of tribes will now – if not already – have deep suspicions over Iran’s intentions on their soil.

Comprehending the lack of any tangible future for his regime’s Yemen initiative, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has twice called for engagement and negotiations with regional states.

This marks a stark change in strategy for Iran, as Yemen for Khamenei resembled a bargaining chip, based on the alliance they previously enjoyed with Saleh’s loyalists.

Yemen has now become the most vulnerable piece of Iran’s Middle East puzzle. Tehran’s position in the region is also downgrading and weakened deeply, making Rouhani’s call for talks more understandable.

The setbacks in Yemen has had its impact on Iran’s other political endeavors. Following the recent missile launch from Yemen targeting Riyadh, and evidence showing the missile being of Iranian origin, France and other European countries have voiced positions far different from their stereotype calls for engagement with Tehran.

Parallel to French President Emmanuel Macron seeking talks to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program, his top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian in a recent interview signaled Paris will not accept Tehran’s military expansion to the Mediterranean.

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BEIJING, CHINA – NOVEMBER 24: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi (not pictured) at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on November 24, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Jason Lee – Pool / Getty Images)