France’s firm role led to robust deal on Iran, says Paris

Iran/telephone conversation between M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, and his Iranian counterpart – Communiqué issued by the Presidency of the Republic

Paris, 23 July 2015

The French President spoke to Mr Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran. They welcomed the agreement reached in Vienna on 14 July. Together they discussed the practicalities of its implementation. They agreed to step up bilateral cooperation in this new context. M. Laurent Fabius’s visit to Iran on 29 July will seek to begin this development.

The French President said he would like Iran to make a positive contribution to resolving crises in the Middle East./.

Iran – Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to France Inter

Paris, 21 July 2015


Iran/nuclear agreement

Q. – The other subject that concerns you very directly is of course the Iranian nuclear issue. Yesterday the United Nations Security Council and the European Union gave the green light to the agreement reached in Vienna last week. You were involved in the negotiations. Can you say clearly today that following this agreement, Iran will not have an atomic bomb in the next 10 years?

THE MINISTER – Yes, it’s crystal clear. This was the goal, because we had every reason to believe that Iran had started a whole series of efforts to obtain the atomic bomb. And the atomic bomb would have been extremely dangerous, not only because it’s dangerous [in itself] but also because it would have triggered a situation whereby other, neighbouring countries would have wanted to obtain the atomic bomb, in an already very explosive region.

The agreement we reached after 12 years of negotiations – I myself only did, as it were, the last three years – is a truly major diplomatic agreement.

Perhaps in a moment we can go into the details. Two days ago, I had a phone call – which I very much appreciated – of congratulations from Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, and we agreed that it was without doubt the most important diplomatic agreement for an extremely long time.

French role

Q. – What was France’s role and your role in the final straight of the negotiations? Were you the hawk described in the press, or at any rate in favour of a harder line towards Iran?

THE MINISTER – When you reach an agreement – there was the 5+1 on one side, i.e. the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, and Iran on the other side –, when there’s an agreement, it means everyone’s done their bit: you can’t say it’s due to X or it’s due to Y.

Q. – Were you – to rephrase the question – the “bad cop” towards Iran?

THE MINISTER – No, but admittedly France – in this case, I was its representative – was very firm. Why? Because, on the one hand, it’s about the nuclear programme and you have to be extremely serious. There are a whole series of technical measures to take, and we couldn’t lie to ourselves, especially because I was surrounded by experts from the CEA [French Atomic Energy Commission].

And also for another reason, which is really crucial: we would have signed a watered-down agreement, but what would the consequence have been? Neighbouring countries – I’m thinking of the countries in the region – would have said: “you’ve signed an agreement, but it’s absolutely not going to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons. So we ourselves…”

Q. – Which Israel is saying today about your agreement…

THE MINISTER – …so those countries would also have said they were going to acquire nuclear weapons. And then we’d have had an entirely nuclearized region, which was a frightening risk. And what I did, through this attitude of constructive firmness, was to ensure, along with my colleagues, that the agreement was extremely robust, and we wouldn’t have signed an agreement that wasn’t robust. And specifically, with regard to your question, every measure was taken, including at the level of verification, to ensure that in the next 15 years – whatever Iran’s intentions – it’s impossible for that country to acquire nuclear weapons.


Q. – Are we going to pay for that firmness today, at a time when Iran is going to reopen its doors to Western companies? The German Vice-Chancellor was in Tehran only yesterday…


Q. – You still haven’t been there.

THE MINISTER – No, I’ll be there next week.

Q. – Oh, you’re announcing it to us this morning!


Q. – With a delegation of business people?

THE MINISTER – No, initially I’ll be going as a politician. My Iranian colleague, Mr Zarif, invited me. Incidentally, he’d also invited me previously and I hadn’t gone, but now I think everything’s in place for me to go there, and I’ll be having talks on every subject with him.

So to answer your question, will French businesses be penalized? The answer is no. Firstly because we had a significant presence in Iran in the past which the Iranians were entirely satisfied with. Also, the Iranians are very straightforward about the areas – and there are many – where our businesses excel and are competitive. (…) Moreover, as you know, international political life resembles life in general: I don’t think you ever lose out by earning people’s respect.

Nuclear agreement/timeframes

Q. – Will you be meeting President Rouhani next week?

THE MINISTER – Yes. That’s scheduled. And I’m delighted to be going. (…)

Q. – If I’ve understood correctly, the agreement with Iran is valid for only 10 years. Does this mean that in 10 years’ time Iran will be able to continue its nuclear research?

THE MINISTER – No. It’s true that the issue of the agreement’s duration is quite complex – it’s an agreement about 100 pages long, with a lot of annexes – but the implementation periods are not the same in the different areas.

The 10 years are specifically about the limitation on the number of centrifuges. Today, Iran has 20,000 centrifuges; we reached an agreement at the end of which it will be able to use only 5,060 centrifuges. A centrifuge is what enables uranium to be enriched, and if you want to move towards an atomic bomb you must have 90% enriched uranium. We got the number of centrifuges to be much smaller.

There are provisions concerning weapons sales which are valid for five years, and provisions on ballistic missiles which are valid for eight years. But there are also other provisions which apply over 15 years, and that’s the figure we must bear in mind, because for 15 years, if Iran doesn’t comply with its obligations we’ll be able to reintroduce sanctions against the country. Moreover, there are 20-year and 25-year obligations and there are also perpetual obligations.

To conclude – because I don’t wish to be too technical – there’s a notion we must bear in mind called “breakout time”: the time Iran would need, if it violates its obligations, to have the atomic bomb. Today it’s two months, and for [the next] 10 years it will be at least one year. So you see this enables us to have a much stronger capacity for reaction and protection than previously.

As you know, before signing the agreement on France’s behalf and after talking to the French President about it, I had a conversation with the Director General of the IAEA; he’s the one in charge of verification. I asked him: “With what we’re preparing and what we’re going to sign, will you have the means to verify that Iran won’t be able to obtain the atomic bomb?” He answered yes.


Q. – With Iran’s reintegration into the concert of nations, a very major economy is going to enter the global market. Will France play its role?

THE MINISTER – I’m keen to say that we signed this agreement not for commercial reasons – even though there may be commercial consequences – but for strategic reasons.

Let’s think about it: what was the alternative? The alternative – and John Kerry put it very well – was war, and when you ask yourself whether or not the agreement is good, you mustn’t make an absolute judgment, you must make a judgment based on the alternative: were there any reasonable people who wanted or want there to be a war with Iran? No, and I think we must bear this in mind.

As for trade, we’re getting Iran to renounce nuclear weapons. In exchange, after being subject to sanctions, particularly economic sanctions, Iran gets the chance for them to be lifted. But they won’t be until we’re certain it’s fulfilling its military obligations.

But it will open up a new market, with 80 million inhabitants; there are a whole number of prospects in terms of transport, aviation, agrifoods and many other areas. The French had a presence in the past; now they no longer have much presence. It will give us opportunities for our businesses to be there; a MEDEF [French employers’ organization] delegation will also be going there in September.

Moreover, at my suggestion, there’s been an exchange of letters between the Americans on the one hand and the Europeans on the other – there were three of us – to ensure that businesses which are going to trade with Iran can’t be penalized. I don’t know if you remember the Paribas case. That company had traded with Iran and Cuba, among others – and it’s quite unique in historical terms – and Paribas had to pay a $9-million fine.

We don’t want the same thing to happen if sanctions, having been lifted, are restored. Without going into over-complex details, we reached an agreement with the Americans to ensure that everyone – not only the Americans but the Europeans and the others too – could trade. The goal is to enable the Iranian people to improve their living standards./.

Iran/adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 – Statement by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development

Paris, 20 July 2015

The United Nations Security Council has adopted Resolution 2231, which endorses the recent agreement reached in Vienna by Iran and the E3+3 nations on the nuclear issue. This decision is an important step towards the implementation of our Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Its unanimous adoption is good news.

The historic importance of this agreement, the major role played by three European powers (France, the United Kingdom and Germany) and the role of coordinator taken on by the High Representative were applauded by the European Union Foreign Affairs Council./.

Iran/nuclear programme – Conversation between M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, and his American counterpart – Communiqué issued by the Presidency of the Republic

Paris, 14 July 2015

The French President had a conversation this afternoon with Barack Obama about the agreement reached on the Iranian nuclear programme.

The [French] Head of State paid tribute to the efforts of the negotiators, who for many months sought a serious and verifiable agreement. He emphasized that the time for discussion is now over and the time has come for action.

The process under way includes clear limitations on the Iranian nuclear programme, a robust monitoring system and the opportunity to reintroduce sanctions in the event of the commitments being violated.

It is up to Iran to implement all the measures provided for, according to the timeable established. France, with its partners, will ensure rigorously and in good faith that the agreement is complied with.

The result obtained lessens the risk to regional and international security that nuclear proliferation represents.

It is paramount that Iran should now become a responsible player in its neighbourhood’s stability./.

Iran/nuclear programme – Excerpts from the interview given by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, to TF1 and France2

Paris, 14 July 2015


Q. – (…) This very morning, an agreement was reached with Tehran on the Iranian nuclear programme and the lifting of the embargo. Can we, firstly, trust the regime of the mullahs, the Tehran regime?

THE PRESIDENT – A very important agreement was signed last night. The world really is moving forward. There had been negotiations for 12 years – 12 years. And now, at last, there’s a successful outcome. France was very firm in this negotiation and Laurent Fabius conducted it very rigorously and also very firmly.

What was my concern? To avoid nuclear proliferation. What does nuclear proliferation mean? It means that Iran could have acquired nuclear weapons. If Iran acquired nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia, Israel and other countries would also want to acquire nuclear weapons. This would be a risk for the whole planet. So Iran had to be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons. Now, Iran has just agreed to reduce its capacities, its centrifuges.

The second important thing, second objective: we had to be able to verify, because it’s too easy to say “I’m giving up, but you can’t enter my territory to verify”. So inspections will be carried out.

The third objective I and Laurent Fabius had in this negotiation was for us to be able, certainly, to lift the sanctions – because there are sanctions against Iran –, but [also] restore them if there were the slightest breach. (…) So, Iran won’t have access to nuclear weapons – first point. We’ll be able to verify. If there are breaches, we’ll be able to restore the sanctions.

Q. – So apart from trust, there’s a mechanism, is that what you’re saying?

THE PRESIDENT – There’s a mechanism. This mechanism will also be operated by an international organization competent to do this.

Q. – Up to now, France has opted for alliances with the Sunni monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia; you yourself were very warmly welcomed over there. Hasn’t this change and the return of Iran, the great Shia power, to the concert of nations caught us out a little?

THE PRESIDENT – If France wants to ensure peace, it must talk to everyone, but with principles which apply to everyone. For Iran, as long as there was this nuclear threat, it wasn’t possible. Iran also had sanctions imposed on it at international level. What’s more, when Iran supports a number of armed groups which destabilize countries, it isn’t acceptable. I told the Iranians this.

As for the other countries – Arab countries and the Gulf monarchies –, we say to them: you also must play a role to fight terrorism. (…) So we don’t want to create opposition between Iran, a so-called Shia country, and others, Saudi Arabia and other countries, which are supposedly Sunni. This would mean gambling with extremely dangerous divisions. So we must advance the same principles and talk to everyone.

And, now that Iran is going to have greater capabilities on the financial front, since there’ll be no more sanctions, we’ve got to keep an extremely close eye on what Iran will be. Iran must show – I’m going to take an extremely specific subject – on Syria, that it is willing to help us put an end to the conflict. (…)./.

Iran/nuclear programme – Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to the daily newspaper Le Monde

Paris, 14 July 2015

Q. – How can you guarantee to Israel and the Gulf countries that this agreement is sufficiently “robust”, to use your expression, to prevent Iran from ultimately equipping itself with an atomic weapon?

THE MINISTER – The Iran nuclear issue doesn’t concern only Israel and the Gulf countries: ensuring that Iran can’t equip itself with a nuclear weapon is a concern for the whole international community. Nuclear proliferation and therefore security and peace are at stake.

In order to achieve this goal – “yes to civilian nuclear energy for Iran, no to a nuclear weapon” –, which the French President and I myself have always said governs France’s position, we were especially mindful in these long negotiations of three aspects: clearly limiting Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities and what it will be able to do in terms of research and development; being able to specifically verify the implementation of its commitments; and providing for a mechanism to automatically reintroduce sanctions in the event of a violation. This line of constructive firmness enabled us to achieve a sufficiently robust agreement, in any case for a period of more than 10 years. In the same spirit we’ll ensure that it’s implemented.

Q. – Do you envisage visiting Tehran soon?

THE MINISTER – It’s entirely possible.

Q. – Does this agreement pave the way for cooperation with Iran on the major regional crises, particularly Syria, Iraq and Yemen?

THE MINISTER – The agreement aims to end one of the most serious and long-running nuclear proliferation crises. It aims for more peace and stability in the Middle East. The region is already explosive enough without the addition of nuclear conflicts. Moreover, if Iran – an important country, a great civilization and a major player in the region – clearly makes the choice of cooperating, we’ll welcome this development, but we’ll judge on results. Its contribution would be useful to help resolve many crises.

Q. – Aren’t you afraid Iran will use the considerable funds recovered through the lifting of sanctions to strengthen Shia militias in the Middle East?

THE MINISTER – That will be one of the tests. And we’ll be especially vigilant about it.

Q. – What are the advances in this agreement compared to the Lausanne agreement in April, which defined the broad parameters of a compromise?

THE MINISTER – We’ve moved from agreement on several principles in Lausanne to an actual, precise, complete agreement in Vienna. This in itself represented a huge diplomatic effort. On the underlying issues, we’ve made progress on, among other things, issues linked to militarization and what’s called the “acquisition path” – i.e. the specific procedure Iran will have to comply with to acquire goods of some sensitivity. We’ve also clarified the issue of the arms and missiles embargo. Above all, it’s about a comprehensive agreement that ends 12 years of controversy and argument. It guarantees the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme. And it can, if it’s fully respected, facilitate a normalization of Iran’s international relations. In this respect it can be described as historic.

Q. – Under the terms of this agreement, Iran keeps the right to a regulated nuclear programme and will be able to continue research and development on advanced centrifuges: in reality, doesn’t this amount to kicking the same issue 10 years down the road?

THE MINISTER – Let’s concentrate on some indisputable elements: before this agreement, the breakout time – i.e. the time necessary for Iran to accumulate enough enriched uranium to manufacture a bomb – was two months; this time is increased to more than 12 months by the agreement, and it will be maintained at this level for 10 years. Limitations will remain beyond the 10 years. Moreover, this strictly civilian nuclear programme will be subject to the necessary checks. This in itself is an appreciable result.

Q. – The agreement advocates the lifting of sanctions against Iran. How can you guarantee they’ll be reintroduced in the event of a confirmed violation by Iran?

THE MINISTER – It’s what’s called “snapback”. France worked hard to propose and have adopted a mechanism for the automatic reintroduction of sanctions in the event of Iran violating its obligations. If one of the P5+1 countries (the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany) believes Iran isn’t fulfilling its obligations and it [Iran] doesn’t provide a credible explanation, that country will be able to trigger a Security Council vote on a draft resolution reaffirming the lifting of UN sanctions. I grant you that it’s subtle, but it’s the price of making effective compromises on such complex issues.

Q. – In the event of the agreement being violated, this text provides for Iran having a maximum of 65 days before the reintroduction of sanctions: doesn’t this period give Iran the necessary time to conceal its proliferation activities?

THE MINISTER – If one of the six P5+1 countries believes Iran is violating one of its obligations, it refers the matter to the Joint Commission, which includes the Six and also the Iranians. A discussion then begins for a maximum of 35 days. If it’s not convinced, any one of the Six may refer the matter to the Security Council, with a maximum of 30 days then to reintroduce sanctions. It is indeed quite lengthy, but with modern monitoring and verification technologies, it’s not possible to conceal every trace of proliferation activities.

Q. – Does the agreement maintain a total embargo on heavy and ballistic weapons, and [if so,] for how long?

THE MINISTER – This was discussed right to the end. France’s position has been clear and firm on this too: it would be contradictory for the immediate consequence of this agreement to be the lifting of the constraints on Iran in the area of weapons and missiles. So the arms embargo is being maintained for five years and bans on transfers in the ballistic field for eight years.

Q. – Does the agreement authorize the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit all the sites, including military ones, without restrictions?

THE MINISTER – An agreement which isn’t verifiable is an agreement which isn’t implemented. So we made sure that Iran applies the IAEA’s highest standards of verification. Added to this is a specific procedure concerning it [Iran]. Access to all the sites will be possible, including the Parchin site, not to try and uncover military secrets but to verify whether or not there has been any reprehensible nuclear activity. I spoke to the IAEA Director General about this several times to make sure that he considered the measure adequate and credible.

Q. – What are the stages of the agreement’s implementation? And do you fear deadlock at the US Congress?

THE MINISTER – The timetable is this: after endorsement by the Security Council a 90-day period begins, during which Iran will have to take various steps to prepare itself for implementing the agreement. The next phase will last six to nine months, during which it will have to implement all its nuclear commitments. Each of these stages will be accompanied by a gradual easing of sanctions. As regards the United States, Congress will have to express its view, and I’ve no particular comment to make on this, other than this, which is common sense: when we evaluate an agreement, we mustn’t do so only in absolute terms, but compare the situation when there’s an agreement with what happens in concrete terms if there’s no agreement.

Q. – Aren’t you afraid that the closer ties observed between France and Saudi Arabia will penalize French companies in the Iranian market?

THE MINISTER – No, for two reasons. Firstly, when we’re talking about eliminating the threat of military nuclear activities, you can’t determine your own country’s position on the basis of commercial considerations: we’re talking about security and peace. Secondly, there will in all likelihood be stiff economic competition in Iran, because everyone is lining up. But don’t forget that our companies have worked with and in that country for a long time, that they excel in several sectors and that they will have strengths to highlight. So I have confidence in them. As for our traditional friendships, there’s no question of giving them up./.

Published on 28/07/2015

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