Comments at a Roundtable at the Itamaraty (Rio de Janeiro, October, 2010)

It's an immense pleasure for me to be here, among such distinguished colleagues, scholars and journalists. I am still wondering why I had the chance to get this wonderful invitation. I guess because I have been French ambassador in Iran from 2001 to 2005, at the outset of the nuclear crisis. Probably also because I had spent several years in the department for non proliferation in my ministry, working in particular with the IAEA. This gave me a precious understanding of the technical information emerging continually from this crisis. Finally because after leaving Iran and retiring from my ministry, I wrote a substantial amount of articles and analyses on Iran and its nuclear file. So this is the modest expertise that I put at the disposal of this Assembly.

Of course, I speak here on a purely personal basis. And I have already taken ample avail of this freedom to express critical views not only on Iran's behavior, which is not too difficult, but also on the West's behavior toward Iran. To make these introductory remarks short, I shall present in a nutshell the conclusions that I have reached after observing this somewhat perverse and distorted relationship during so many years.

First conclusion: it won't be a surprise for experienced historians and analysts, but in this nuclear crisis, passions -on both sides- have played and still play a much more important role than hard facts and cold analyses. No side accepts the other side as it is, nor Iran, nor the West. Acceptance of reality does not mean of course approval. We do not have to approve the Islamic Republic's behavior in the field of human rights, or approve its uranium enrichment program. But these are the starting points from which we have to make things move. For historical but also cultural reasons, the present leaders of Iran nurture a deep distrust of the West, and most leaders in the West have developed a deep antipathy and distrust of the Islamic Republic. For years I have heard that to start a useful negotiation, Iran should first win the West’s trust and confidence : in particular by interrupting its enrichment activities. Iran on the other side repeats that it will not enter into negotiation with the United States but on an equal footing. With such prerequisites, serious negotiation will never start. Lets us remind here that confidence builds up from simple and clear agreements, faithfully applied. It does not have to precede these agreements.

Second conclusion. people in the West, trying to explain the present, and rather sorry, state of things tend to credit Iran with an especially subtle diplomacy, and a extraordinary capacity to fool their partners or adversaries, all of this in order to “gain time”. To gain time for what? For avoiding sanctions? Sanctions against Iran have never been so harsh as today. For making the Bomb? For the last twenty years analysts have prophesized that Iran would have the bomb in the next two to five years. We are still hearing about the same lapse of time today. Personally, I have always found Iranian diplomacy very clumsy indeed. Incapable of presenting their nuclear program in an articulate way. Full of delusions about its capacity to mobilize the solidarity of fellow countries from the developing, or even the Islamic world. Incapable of seizing opportunities because of its difficulty in building internal consensus, or when such a consensus has finally been reached, to modify it in order to adapt to changing circumstances.

Third and last conclusion. On a technical basis, an agreement on the nuclear file would be easy to reach, People who know, on both sides, know exactly what to put into such an agreement : basically, the Outer world should recognize the legitimacy of the Iranian nuclear program and Iran should accept reinforced controls around this program in order to discourage any attempt to divert it toward military uses. Once the IAEA entitled to enforce such controls, Iran would be incapable to start producing material for an atomic bomb without being immediately detected. Frankly, such an agreement could be put together by experts in a few weeks. So why this does not happen? One wonders sometimes if all the actors of this lingering crisis have not finally dug into it comfortable niches which they hesitate now to abandon. The Iranian regime uses it to isolate its population and rally it around itself. The Israeli government finds in the Iranian threat a good argument to solicit the support of the United States and degrade to second priority the solution of the Palestinian question. Countries of the Arabic Peninsula find also in the Iranian menace a convenient and rare subject of consensus. As for the United States, they find here a good opportunity to tighten their camp around their case for non-proliferation, and to feed some legitimacy into their anti-ballistic programs facing South. The main victim of this convergence of opposites could well be the Iranian people, caught in some kind of crossfire. Pressed on one side by the sanctions, on the other side by the whole power structure of the Regime, it is a miracle that they can still stand up and keep hope.

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