Around Laurent Fabius' visit to Tehran

interview with Shokoo Khodaie for Tehran Times (August 2, 2015)

What is the purpose of Mr. Fabius’ trip to Iran ?

 Obviously, the purpose was to start anew with the Iranian-French relationship which has been battered by the long and difficult nuclear crisis. Mr. Fabius has been very well received in Tehran and this shows that the Iranian governement is in the same state of mind. President Rouhani will go to Paris in November at the invitation of President Hollande and this will be also a very strong signal of willingness to build together again a warm and fruitful relationship. Do not forget that President Hollande was the first Western Head of State to meet President Rouhani after his election, in September 2013, on the occasion of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York. So, on the French side, the will is clearly there, and I am convinced that it is the same on Iran's side. 

What are the priorities for co-operation between the two countries ?

Most people will answer that the priority should be business, but I believe that the history of Iranian-French relations goes much beyond shere business. It is much richer than that. Business is of course important, it is a good way to build up confidence between people, but cultural and scientific cooperation, cooperation between Universities, cooperation for the protection of the environment, and of course political cooperation on all subjects of common interest are equally and perhaps  even more important. If I had the choice, I would probably choose the protection of environment as the absolute and most urgent priority.  

Apart from bilateral co-operation between the two countries, what were the most important issues discussed during this visit ? 

I believe that all the crises affecting at the present moment the Middle East, as in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, as well as the fight against extremism and terrorism, have been part of the conversations of Mr.Fabius with Mr.Zarif and President Rouhani. These are subjects in which Iran and France may have differing views, but have certainly common interests!

Is there any rivalry between France and German to penetrate the Iranian markets? 

There is certainly no rivalry between Germany and France. There is, at least in some fields, the normal and healthsome competition  which should exist in an open market between companies which have an shared interest in the Iranian market. Sometimes French and Germans work together in the same company, as in Airbus. Sometimes, French companies have no German competitors, as in the oil and gaz industry, where there is no German equivalent of Total or Institut français du Petrole. Sometimes there is indeed a competition, as between Siemens and Alstom on the public transportation market. For the benefit of the Iranians, may the best win!

French automobile companies do not have a good track record during recent years in Iran. What are their projects and plans to make up for this ?

I beg to differ with this statement. If you ask the Iranian customers, I believe that they are satisfied with the  models constructed in Iran with the cooperation of Peugeot and Renault, and consider these cars as robust, pleasant to drive, and accessible to the middle class. If you ask the Iranian manufacturers, I believe that they consider their French partners as having greatly contributed to create with them a culture of quality, of reliability, of "zero defect", of respect for the Iranian customer. And I can confirm to you that the French automakers were also deeply satisfied with their cooperation with Iran Khodro and Saipa and have developed with their Iranian counterparts solid bonds of trust and friendship. Now, it is true that American pressure and sanctions have almost completely destroyed in a few years this beautiful common venture. But it is only a matter of common will to restore it. It could be put together again in no time.

The Minister, Mr. Laurent Fabius, has been criticized for his firm stance during the nuclear talks — many Iranians perceived him to be particularly harsh. What do you expect from the Iranian side about French positions?

I can understand how the Iranians were somewhat puzzled and angered by some of Mr.Fabius' statements during this long and difficult negotiation, but I can assure you that it was never in his intention to derail the talks. He had his own vision of a "robust" agreement, but after all, the Iranians also wanted a robust agreement! It was in nobody's interest to have a weak agreement, which could have been the source of new quarrels about its interpretation and implementation. Now that all the parties are satisfied with the result,  it is time to turn the page and start a new chapter. 

What did you recommend to Mr. Fabius for this mission ?

I did not meet Mr. Fabius personally before his visit, but I have had the opportunity to express my views in several media outlets. There are two points on which I believe that France could play a useful role in the region. First by helping to bring closer two key players in the Middle East, Iran of course and also Saudi Arabia, with which France has developed recently a good relationship. If these two countries could start working together on solutions for solving the Syrian, the Iraqi, the Yemeni crises, this would be more helpful than all the American interventions! I know it is not easy, but it is not a reason not to try. The second point is a bit technical. It concerns the pending ratification by three countries in the region of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which forbids any kind of nuclear explosion. The ratification of this Treaty creates no difficulty at all for Iran. It has already signed it in 1996, and has, of  course,  no intention  whatsoever  to build a bomb. But Iran, with some good reason, says that it will not ratify it if Israel does not ratify it. Egypt is in the same position. France has good relations with Iran, Egypt and Israel. If it could slowly by slowly convince these three countries to ratify simultanuously this treaty, it would be a first step in the direction of a Nuclear Free Middle East, which is in important goal for the Iranian diplomacy.

How do you see the future of relations between Iran and France ?

Of course, we have to accept that it will take some time to rebuild a fully trusting and close relationship, but in all fields of cooperation, if we put our strengths in common, the sky is the limit!