France has long established itself as the guardian of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its disarmament mandates. A republic capable of much cynicism, France has nonetheless defended the integrity of the treaty and protected its much battered norms. This was the case last week in Geneva when France resisted an agreement with Iran that it deemed insufficiently robust.
For now, Washington has conceded to Paris, provoking a chorus of criticism from those who seek an accord at any price. Contrary to the critics' claims, the United States' greatest diplomatic successes have come about when it proved sensitive to the concerns of its allies and not just the imperatives of its adversaries.
Among America's most important historic achievements was its steady hand in unifying postwar Germany. The German question was at the heart of Europe's struggles, from the nation's division in the aftermath of World War II to its unification in 1990. When the Berlin Wall came down, President George H.W
Bush and Secretary of State James Baker created a mechanism and momentum that helped overcome the objections of French President Francois Mitterrand, British Prime Minister
Several years later, the question that bedeviled Europe was the role of
When these principles are set aside, America suffers. The George W. Bush administration's handling of the six-party talks on North Korea's
The challenge of diplomacy with Iran is that it intersects with the interests of a range of actors. Israel looms large, as Prime Minister
The French objections seemed to center on Iran's nearly completed plutonium plant in Arak and its growing enrichment capacity, which offers it an easy path to the bomb. For Paris, a provisional agreement is without much value unless it freezes not just some but all of Iran's multiple paths to nuclear arms. Interim agreements come and go but sanctions relief is irreversible.
France's embrace of principle over expediency has been censured as unwise if not obstructionist. The Obama administration is advised to compel France's acquiescence. The historical record indicates that America's negotiating outcomes benefit from taking into account its allies' objections. Washington should seek real consultation with Paris, not just pro-forma efforts to "inform" with an expectation that France will fall into line with what might be politically acceptable — such as a desire for a "deliverable" outcome.
As the negotiations with Iran ebb and flow, it is important to appreciate that the cause of the current crisis is not French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius or Netanyahu but Iranian supreme leader