French President Francois Holland and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrive in Jerusalem Sunday, Nov. 17. Their talks with Israel’s leaders are likely to determine how France, Israel and Saudi Arabia respond to the Obama administration’s current Middle East moves, with critical effect on the next round of nuclear talks taking place in Geneva Wednesday, Nov. 20 between six world powers and Iran.
DEBKA France will be given the option of aligning with the Middle East powers – Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt – which challenge President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s race for détente with Tehran. If he accepts this option, the next decision facing President Hollande will be whether, how and when this grouping is willing to consider resorting to military action to preempt a nuclear-armed Iran.
This option has been abandoned by Washington, a decision succinctly articulated Tuesday, Nov. 12, by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “The American people do not want a march to war,” he told reporters. Therefore: “…spoiling diplomatic talks with Iran would be a march to war.”
Ergo, opponents of a US-Iranian deal – Carney omitted mention of Iran’s military nuclear program to leave US negotiators a free hand for easy terms – are pushing for war.
Hollande and Netanyahu will have to decide between them whether to create a joint French-Arab-Israeli military option to fill the gap left by Washington’s abdication from the war choice and, if so, whether, how and when to exercise it.
Foreign Minister Fabius, whose vote torpedoed the original US proposal for Iran at the first Geneva conference, analyzed the implications of Obama’s policy in a lecture this week marking the 40th anniversary of the French Policy Planning Staff, which largely shapes Paris government foreign and defense policies.
He said: “The United States seems no longer to wish to become absorbed by crises that do not align with its new vision of its national interest. Because nobody can take the place of the United States, this disengagement could create major crises left to themselves. A strategic void could be created in the Middle East, with widespread perception of Western indecision.”
The self-evident corollary to this diagnosis is that by foregoing resistance to the US-Iranian understanding, France, Saudi Arabia and Israel would share America’s responsibility for the major crises erupting in the region, which none of them would be able to control.
DEBKAfile sees another dimension to this argument: Paris, Riyadh and Jerusalem do not feel guilty of wantonly attacking the Obama outreach to Iran; they rather feel they were driven into a corner by a policy inimical to their interests and from which they were forced to step aside.
Although confronted at home with anger over soaring prices and rated one of the most unpopular French presidents in recent times, Hollande instructed his foreign minister at the six-power negotiations in Geneva on Oct. 9 to stick France’s neck out and challenge the American proposal for a deal with Iran
The French president also chose to visit Israel at a moment of high vocal discord between the Obama administration and Binyamin Netanyahu, with Washington acting to isolate the Israeli leader for his stand-up fight against what he calls “a very bad deal” with Tehran.
However, the French president felt the need to talk to Netanyahu at this stage, before deciding whether or not to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by his foreign minister and continue to pursue an independent French path against the Obama administration – possibly, hand in hand with likeminded Middle East governments.
Hollande’s decision is also of high significance for Netanyahu when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next Wednesday, Nov. 20.
It will determine whether he stands alone on the key issues or is backed by France and Saudi Arabia. In any case, the prime minister will try and sound Putin out on how far Russia is willing to go to fill the “strategic void” left by America in the Middle East. He will ask whether Moscow is willing to work ad hoc with Israel, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to defeat Obama’s Middle East moves – even though each has its own individual interests to look after.
The decisions reached by the French president and Israeli prime minister are therefore of critical import to the next round of nuclear negotiations with Iran next Wednesday.