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Iran standoff sees France winning Gulf friends, influence
November 11, 2013 2:59 AM
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watches (Repeats story from Nov. 10 without changes) fake watches * France's stance in Iran nuclear talks irks some allies replica watches * Paris insists main demands on Iran have not changed swiss replica watches * Gulf states, Israel look to France to defend interests fake watches * Tough stance has strategic, economic attractions for Paris best swiss replica watches By John Irish PARIS, Nov 10 (Reuters) - France's tough line in major powertalks with Iran may frustrate those looking for an early dealover Tehran's nuclear programme, but is helping Paris to sealstrategic new links with Gulf states and Israel. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius emerged just after midnightfrom Saturday's talks in Geneva to insist more work was neededto remove the risk of an Iranian nuclear bomb, rankling thoseWestern allies who believed they were on the brink of an accordthat has eluded negotiators for a decade. France's bottom-line position should have come as littlesurprise to other negotiators heading to Geneva last week. While President Francois Hollande's decision to pose for aphoto opportunity with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani atSeptember's U.N. General Assembly raised concerns in Israel,French officials were quick to insist that their negotiatingstance would remain tough. Fabius stressed then that Iran must suspend construction ofits Arak heavy-water reactor and halt uranium enrichment to aconcentration of 20 percent to win an easing of internationalsanctions that are strangling its economy. Those were the same demands he cited at the start of thelast day of talks on Saturday when he insisted France could notaccept a "fool's game" handing Iran a cheap victory. "We have not changed our position. It has always been clearand constant," a French diplomatic source said. "If theperception of Saudi Arabia and Israel is that the United Statesis more inclined for a deal without firmness, that is theiranalysis - but our position has always been the same." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, alluding to criticismof the U.S. approach in Geneva, said on U.S. television: "We arenot blind, and I don't think we're stupid. I think we have apretty strong sense of how to measure whether or not we areacting in the interests of our country and of the globe." France, a U.N. Security Council veto-holder, has long heldout for strict terms trading a loosening of internationalsanctions on Iran's oil-based economy in return for commitmentsby Tehran to show its nuclear work is as peaceful as it asserts. But the new element is the fear among Iran's foes Israel andthe Gulf states that the United States has turned softer onIran, leaving Paris as the leading defender of their interests. As France struggles to reform its weak domestic economy andwatches Germany increasingly shape European Union policy, thatis a realignment full of welcome trade and diplomatic promisefor Hollande's government. "This is not just about arms sales ... but about strategicinfluence in the region," said Middle East specialist ShashankJoshi at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London. "France can win influence with Saudi Arabia and Israel." OUT ON A LIMB? Kerry was quick to play down differences among the Westernallies within the so-called "P5+1" grouping - Security Councilveto-wielders Russia, China, the United States, Britain andFrance, plus Germany - that are stewarding the Iran diplomacy. But one diplomat close to the talks accused Fabius ofgrandstanding. Veteran diplomat Carl Bildt, foreign minister ofSweden, tweeted: "Seems as if the most difficult talks in Genevaare not with Iran but within the Western group." While Franco-U.S. relations have long since recovered fromthe lows reached in 2003 when Paris marshalled world oppositionto the U.S.-led war in Iraq, new tensions have emerged. French officials were disappointed when they saw Washingtonas being hesitant to support Hollande's January intervention inMali to quash an insurgency by al Qaeda-linked rebels. But they were even unhappier in August when, after much U.S.encouragement, they put French fighter jets within hours ofbombing Syria to punish its use of chemical arms - only to betold by Barack Obama to stand down while he consulted the U.S.Congress, then to watch as his ardour for action cooled. "Our American partners used to lecture us 15 years ago,"said a senior French official. "Now, when it comes to the MiddleEast they are filled with uncertainty and doubt. Thatuncertainty gives us a card to influence our policy." Paris points to a longstanding hard line on weaponsproliferation as proof it is acting from a point of principlerather than to curry favour with the Gulf and Israel. Yet with France only last week hit by a second sovereigndebt downgrade from ratings agency Standard and Poor's over itsfailure to kickstart its sluggish economy, Paris does not hidethe fact that it regards exports to the Middle East as aprecious source of growth and jobs. In October, France sealed a contract to modernise six navalships and tankers from Saudi Arabia, having won in July onebillion euros worth of contracts with the United Arab Emiratesfor anti-aircraft radars and military observation satellites. French officials say they are also optimistic on securing alarge deal to deliver anti-aircraft defence missiles to Riyadhand the sale of Rafale fighter jets to neighbouring Qatar. "The international context, our consistent position on Syriaand our relations with Saudi Arabia have contributed toaddressing the unimpressive military ties we once had," DefenceMinister Jean-Yves Le Drian said just after the Saudi deal. The question now is to what extent France is ready to go outon a limb and veto any possible nuclear deal with Iran, with anew round of talks set for Nov. 20 - just as Hollande isscheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories. "The most difficult part of this conflict is not betweenFrance and Iran, it is between the United States and Iran,"former defence minister Paul Quiles, a Socialist ally ofHollande, told Reuters. "If the U.S. president is willing to seek a compromise, thenit would be terrible if France prevents it." (Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and LeighThomas in Paris, Andy Sullivan in Washington; writing by MarkJohn, editing by Mark Heinrich) Europe News Budget, Tax & Economy Iran Francois Hollande France Israel Laurent Fabius Paris
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