It is the overall spirit of this agreement that has not been respected, since the idea behind it was indeed a reversal of the regime’s geopolitical stance, a sort of Islamic market democracy that was supposed to gradually emerge.
Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, a researcher at the Thomas More Institute and the Institut Français de Géopolitique (Paris 8 University Vincennes-Saint-Denis), told a panel discussion on Iran entitled, “IRGC and Sanctions”, in suburban Paris on June 29, 2018:
“Not being strictly speaking a specialist of the Revolutionary Guards, it seems to me that the priority, in France and in Europe, is firstly to convince people what policy is right. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. As we know, we are heading towards a summit between Presidents Trump and Putin which is already giving rise to a certain number of reservations and concerns in Europe. To my mind, the main divisive factor and the cause for the breakdown of a united front in the West, even more than Russia, is the question of Iran and the Middle East.
Some of us are convinced that the agreement of July 2015 was a bad one. I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from revisiting that debate, or at least not for long. The nub is that the Iranian regime kept its nuclear infrastructure and was accorded a fantastical right to enrichment. There is the whole issue of post-2025. There is the UN resolution which says that Iran must stop actively developing ballistic missiles. We know it has not been respected, and above all that the overall spirit of the agreement has not been respected, since the idea behind it was indeed a reversal of the regime’s geopolitical stance, a sort of Islamic market democracy that was supposed to gradually emerge. Of course nobody expected everything to change overnight, we are fully aware now that it’s not as simple as that, but in all events that the first signals should be sent. But on the contrary, even before the nuclear agreement had been negotiated, finalised, we know that the commander of the Revolutionary Guards was in Moscow to lay the foundations for a joint intervention with Russia to support Bashar al-Assad.
So to sum up on this first point, the Middle East is still caught up in an infernal dialectic between jihadism of Shiite origin and jihadism of Sunni origin. And that is ultimately what is at stake with Iran, with the Iranian question, the future of the regime there, because it looks pretty difficult to get 300 million Sunni Arabs to accept being under Iranian control and to get pretend delegates in Tehran to accept the fight against jihadism. We are in fact fighting on two geopolitical fronts. While it is true that it is never easy to fight on two geopolitical fronts, it’s not the Third World War either, we are not facing the same conundrums as in 1940-41, so it is something that western strategies should be able to take in their stride.
Secondly, I shall come back to the European method, the method promoted by Paris, by London and by Berlin, in which our president, Emmanuel Macron, in particular has played a leading role. The idea was that we had to keep an existing agreement, draw on what was already there, so to speak, and then try and extend it, add two or even three pillars, so a negotiation on the future of the Middle East that would consist in a kind of soft containment of the regime in the region, then the ballistic missile issue plus a negotiation on post-2025. That’s why I said two or three additional pillars. Talking of method, or rather methods, we should remember the etymology, it’s a Greek word: “meta”, meaning after or beyond, the “meta” of metapolitics, and then “hodos”, meaning road, so that implies a real objective, a well-defined strategy and here we are on the move, no pun intended. In the end, it was just an outline. It was more rhetoric than anything else, not because of bad faith on the part of Paris, London and Berlin but simply because the leaders and officials of the Iranian regime expressed their rejection of it from the outset. Emmanuel Macron was given short shrift, to put it bluntly, and when Jean-Yves Le Drian, our foreign minister, went to Iran in March to try and start up a negotiation along those lines, the atmosphere that greeted him was distinctly hostile.
In the end the European capitals, those which make up the so-called EU3, the lynchpin of the negotiations on the agreement, found themselves in a quandary: either they had to swallow their criticisms of Tehran over ballistic missile proliferation and destabilization of the Middle East and go back to simply justifying a status quo that does not exist on the ground; or it meant moving onto the next phase, the implementation of sanctions, not perhaps because of non-compliance with the July 2015 agreement, since it is generally considered to have been more or less respected, but because the real problem is that the agreement is not comprehensive, it is a bad agreement, so in all events sanctions for the ballistic missile program on the one hand and for destabilization of the Middle East on the other […]
To sum up, I would say that what this semblance of a strategy that seems to be emerging on the US side lacks is a real vision. To my mind there cannot be any grand strategy, any sense of an overall vision, a lofty vision, an elevated policy that goes beyond every man for himself. But all the same we have no real clue as to American policy in the Middle East. I am thinking as I speak of the rebel groups in the south of Syria, around Deraa, who get the impression they have simply been abandoned. There is also a lot of concern about the future of the American presence in the north-east of Syria. Generally speaking, it seems to me particularly difficult to conduct a policy of containing or turning back Iran in the Middle East while at the same time disengaging from the Middle East. To my mind, it is not some arrangement, some great “deal”, to use the current buzzword, with Putin that would resolve this contradiction – as though Putin would come and contain Iran in the Middle East for the greater good of us all.