PARIS â€” France’s idea of involving Iran directly in talks to end the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah is a risky venture but may well prove inevitable, French analysts said Tuesday.
They were reacting to French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy’s meeting on Monday in Beirut with Iranian opposite number Manouchehr Mottaki, and to his remarks concerning Iran’s “important stabilising role in the region.” The comments â€” condemned as “outrageous” by French Jewish leaders â€” appeared to indicate a willingness to include Tehran in the search for a settlement to three weeks of violence, in direct contradiction of American and Israeli policy.
“It is a high-risk initiative. It has a certain logic, but it implies a willingness on the part of Iran and Hizbollah to alter their behaviour,” said Francois Gere of the French Institute for Strategic Analysis.
For Gere, the very fact that Douste-Blazy and Mottaki were unable to agree on a joint statement at the end of their talks is a sign of the delicacy of the French approach.
“French diplomacy is trying to pull off something that is extremely subtle and complex,” he said.
Francois Heisbourg, of the Foundation for Strategic Research, agreed that “it would on the face of it be extremely surprising for Iran to play a stabilising role in Lebanon. And if it did, the next question is obviously what is the price Iran gets in return â€” on its nuclear programme.” Iran has in recent days toughened its position in the stand-off with outside powers over its nuclear programme, indicating that the Israeli offensives in Gaza and Lebanon will have an impact on its next step.
On Monday, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution giving Tehran one month to suspend uranium enrichment, with the threat of sanctions if it fails to comply.
For Dominique Moisi, of the French Institute for International Relations, “France’s underlying idea â€” even if it denies it publicly â€” is to say to Iran: ‘Show yourselves to be responsible on the Hizbollah issue and we will be more understanding on the nuclear issueâ€™.” But according to Moisi, this approach risks handing Iran a political victory to add to the symbolic triumph of Hizbollah, which has already “won the war by not losing it.” “When you treat totalitarian regimes in this way, not only are they not grateful, they despise you. They reckon you are ready to do anything to avoid a fight,” Moisi said.
But the same experts believed that an Iranian role in negotiations to end the fighting may in the end be impossible to avoid.
“The basic point is that no one wants to take part in a multinational force to disarm Hizbollah. The feeling is that if Iran can do it, then that’ll get us out of a tricky spot,” said Moisi.
“Encouraging Iran to come out into the open is not necessarily a bad policy. Tehran is after all at the heart of what is going on,” said Heisbourg.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Monday that any deal to end the hostilities must have the agreement of “all states in the region” â€” a formulation that includes Syria,Â whichÂ like Iran is accused of backing Hizbollah.
However, President Jacques Chirac said that the Syrian regime was “at odds with security and peace”, while Douste-Blazy at the weekend ruled out “entering discussions with Syria”. According to Gere, “the aim [of France] is to speak to the dominant power â€” Iran â€” in the hope that the weaker power â€” Syria â€” realises that she risks isolation. The objective is to break the Syria-Iran alliance.”