By Claude Salhani
Relations between Iran and France have, since the start of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, been dodgy at best. France, as the country where the human rights charter was conceived, has a hard time accepting Iran’s shenanigans and the regime‘s support of terrorism as a tool for its foreign policy.
Still, the two are expected to soon announce that they are to exchange ambassadors, officials representing both sides have said.
This comes after months of severe tension between Tehran and Paris, tension over several diverging positions, including an alleged Iranian plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally near Paris. The French don’t appreciate that a foreign country takes it upon itself to carry out acts of terrorism on its territory. No nation would.
That both Paris and Tehran are willing to explore the diplomatic route to solve their differences is probably the only reasonable step to take. In dealing with the Middle East, the West seems to favour turning to military solutions rather quickly. That has only brought disaster.
Still, for the French and many others in Europe, maintaining diplomatic ties with a country that was recently trying to plant bombs and carry out assassinations in your backyard does not come naturally. Whether there can be cordial and trusting relations between Tehran and any country where the rights of an individual are respected and taken seriously, as opposed to Iran where the regime ignores all basic rights of individuals, remains to be seen.
Iran cannot continue to behave like the school bully and expect to be treated with respect.
The newly appointed Iranian ambassador to France, Bahram Ghasemi, is a former envoy to Spain and Italy and current spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. In Paris, La Gazette newspaper reported that Philippe Thiebaud, a former envoy to Pakistan who once represented France at the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, had been appointed as ambassador to Iran.
Ghasemi and Thiebaud will fill posts that have been unoccupied for more than six months following a series of spats between France and Iran. The previous French ambassador left Iran at the end of his mandate in August. Tehran’s envoy left Paris last summer before finishing his term. No official reason was given for his abrupt departure.
France accused a branch of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry of attempting to bomb a meeting of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, an Iranian opposition group, last June near Paris. Tehran vehemently denied the accusations and slammed France for hosting the group, which it calls a “terrorist cult of hypocrites.”
Relations between France and Iran were also strained over demands by Paris that Iran limit its ballistic missiles programme, which Tehran says is purely defensive.
Iran reined in most of its nuclear programme under a landmark 2015 deal with major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — that lifted economic sanctions on Iran.
Last May, the United States withdrew from the deal and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran. France and other European partners to the deal have been trying to salvage the nuclear accord and set up a payment mechanism to maintain trade and business ties with Iran that circumvent US sanctions.
Tehran, however, accused them of dragging their feet. It also criticised France for selling advanced warplanes and other weapons to its regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
While Paris and Tehran were working to mend broken fences and ensure that the exchange of ambassadors would take place, the ultraconservative Iranian newspaper Kayhan called for the expulsion of French diplomats from the country. It claimed that Paris had expelled an Iranian diplomat last autumn. Neither Paris nor Tehran has confirmed or denied the expulsion.
Kayhan is state-owned and its managing director and editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, was personally appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 1993.
The newspaper has, from the start, been opposed to the thawing of relations with the West. It has ceaselessly attacked the 2015 nuclear deal and cited US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the accord as an example of the futility of dealing with Western powers.
What is clear in this clouded relationship between Iran and the West is that Iran will continue to be looked at with a certain amount of trepidation until it cleans up its act. Iran must reject terrorism and it must stop meddling in the affairs of countries, as it is doing in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
Only then will it gain the respect of the international community, have economic and trade sanctions lifted and be allowed to prosper.
However, given that Tehran has not changed its aggressive policies one iota since the start of the revolution and despite poor and non-existing relations with major Western countries, Iran continues to follow a policy that does not benefit its people or those of the region and the world.