French minister to lay out concerns on ballistics, regional role in Iran visit

Iranian Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani (R) shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in the capital Tehran on March 5, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 05 March 2018

French minister to lay out concerns on ballistics, regional role in Iran visit

TEHRAN: France’s foreign minister traveled to Iran on Monday to reaffirm Europe’s commitment to a nuclear deal that opened the Iranian economy to investment, but also to echo concerns raised by US President Donald Trump who has threatened to quit the agreement.
Jean-Yves Le Drian will tell Iran it must address the West’s misgivings about its ballistic missile program and military activities around the Middle East — points the White House says need attention if the nuclear pact is to survive.
“We’re not going to be Donald Trump’s envoys or Iran’s defense lawyers,” said a French diplomatic source. “We have our own concerns and will talk to the different sensibilities of the Iranian system to get our point across.”
Trump has said European allies must help “fix” the nuclear deal before a May 12 deadline.
Le Drian said on Sunday that Iran needed to address concerns over its ballistic missile program or risk new sanctions. Iran immediately rejected France’s concern over its missile program as “wrong,” the semi-official Fars News agency said.
Hard-line media reacted angrily to Le Drian’s remarks with headlines like “Rude guest” and “Weapons of mass seduction lands in Tehran,” while highlighting Iran’s determination to go ahead with its missile program.
Fars said a group of hard-liners gathered at Tehran’s International Mehrabad Airport to protest Le Drian’s visit.
The 2015 accord between France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the United States gave Iran relief from economic sanctions in return for curbs to its nuclear program, allowing Tehran to talk trade with Europe for the first time in years.
The nuclear deal that was pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani’s headline achievement has failed to bring the immediate economic benefits that many expected.
That has slowed down Rouhani’s efforts to engage with the West, opposed by influential allies of Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who remain uneasy about Iran’s efforts to court its old enemies.
France has been quick to restore trade ties. Planemaker Airbus, oil major Total and automobile manufacturers Peugeot and Renault have signed deals, all of which could be at risk if Trump walks out of the accord.
In an effort to keep him on board, French President Emmanuel Macron has criticized Iran’s ballistics program and raised the possibility of new sanctions.
On the eve of Le Drian’s visit, he told Rouhani France expects Iran to make a “constructive contribution” to solving crises in the Middle East, Macron’s office said on Sunday.
Tehran supports Syrian President Bashar Assad against rebels, including groups backed by the West, and backs Israel’s enemy Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The two presidents agreed in their phone call to work together in the coming days with the United Nations, the Syrian government and other countries involved to improve the situation for civilians and make a cease-fire effective, Paris said.
France has urged Washington to see the nuclear deal separately from Iran’s regional activities and its missile program, and Le Drian will stress Macron’s commitment to the nuclear accord, especially as Iran is respecting its terms, French officials said.
Le Drian is due to meet Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as well as officials close to Khamenei, including Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.
Khamenei said on March 1 that Iran would keep supporting Assad’s war effort and a Foreign Ministry spokesman on Sunday rejected Macron’s comments about Iran’s missile program, insisting its “defensive missile work” would continue.
An official close to Rouhani said Iran “has always been open to talks and to resolve issues through diplomacy ... but this does not mean we will yield to unjust pressure over our inevitable rights, whether defensive or anything else.”
While France says Iran is sticking to the terms of the nuclear deal, it may not be respecting part of UN resolution 2231 that calls on it to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads.
The resolution enshrines the nuclear deal, which itself makes no explicit reference to the ballistics program, but it is unclear whether the wording binds Tehran to an obligatory commitment on missiles.
“On the ballistics, the Iranian program is not compatible with 2231 and we have a particular concern on the transfer of know-how of ballistic capacity to regional actors and by that we mean Hezbollah,” said the diplomatic source.
Iran has repeatedly said its missile program is purely defensive and not in violation of the UN resolution.
A second French diplomat said: “While our concerns aren’t directly linked to the nuclear deal, it’s important we make progress on these other subjects because otherwise Trump risks killing the deal.”


Ex-head of Libya's anti-Qaddafi revolt dies of coronavirus

Updated 15 min 20 sec ago

Ex-head of Libya's anti-Qaddafi revolt dies of coronavirus

  • Jibril, 68, died in Cairo where he had been hospitalized for two weeks

TRIPOLI: Mahmud Jibril, the former head of the rebel government that overthrew Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, died Sunday of the coronavirus, his party said.
Jibril, 68, died in Cairo where he had been hospitalized for two weeks, said Khaled Al-Mrimi, secretary of the Alliance of National Forces party founded by Jibril in 2012.