Obama, France’s Hollande paper over Iran rifts

Olivier Knox
Obama and Hollande meet at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with French President Francois Hollande during their meeting at the G8 Summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

When last we left President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande, they were giving two rather different accounts of a conversation about American spying. Are they any closer when they talk about Iran? Yes.

On Wednesday, Obama and Hollande spoke by telephone about the next round of world powers’ negotiations with Iran, aimed at ensuring Tehran cannot build a nuclear weapon. (Tehran says its intentions are wholly peaceful.)

After the first round failed to yield an interim deal, France was either blamed (“Perversity,” huffed the Daily Beast) or celebrated (“Vive la France,” said Sen. John McCain), while the White House insisted that the United States and its allies were “unified” and “united” but that Iran “did not accept” the proposal. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif took to Twitter to blame divisions among Western powers for the setback.

Now that the so-called “P5+1” (Britain, France, Russia, China, the United States plus Germany) are looking at another round of talks with Iran later this month, are Paris and Washington singing from the same hymnal?

Here is a side-by-side comparison of how the White House and the Élysée Palace described the conversation:

Élysée: “The two heads of state expressed their joint determination to secure from Iran a total guarantee that it will definitively abandon its military nuclear program. With that aim, they jointly reaffirmed their full support for the proposal backed by the P5+1 on Nov. 9, which forms the basis for a serious, solid, and credible agreement. It’s up to Iran now to deliver a positive response”

White House: “The United States and France are in full agreement regarding the P5+1’s unified proposal to Iran and the approach to negotiations. They consider the P5+1 proposal to be a sound step toward assuring the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”

The readouts say much the same thing, emphasizing unity behind the P5+1 offer, insisting that any Iranian nuclear program be strictly for civilian, not military, purposes. Both leave open the possibility of modifying the P5+1 plan (it’s a “basis” for a future agreement, say the French, while the White House calls it “a sound step toward” a resolution).

They also paper over France’s resistance to the (as-yet unpublished) potential interim agreement, which would offer Iran a slight easing of crippling sanctions in return for steps to slow or freeze its nuclear program. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned against playing a “fool’s game” by easing the sanctions without securing major Iranian concessions.

Overall, the conversation sounds like a classic “let’s never fight again” makeup chat.