Finian Cunningham: France Wrecks P5+1 Deal for Arab Money
The French deal-breaking intervention at the P5+1 negotiation with Iran may have been motivated by France wanting to ingratiate itself with the Persian Gulf monarchies for strategic economic reasons.
The hasty arrival of US Secretary of State John Kerry as well as the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany raised expectations that a potential deal was in the offing. But it was the French diplomat, Laurent Fabius, who threw a spanner in the works at the last-minute.
Fabius invoked “security concerns of Israel” and announced that his country was not going to sign a draft agreement. The French intervention appeared to catch participants by surprise.
An unnamed Western diplomat told Reuters, “The Americans, the EU and the Iranians have been working intensively for months on this proposal and this is nothing more than an attempt by Fabius to insert himself into relevance late in the negotiations.”
However, contrary to Fabius’ words and speculation by some analysts, the French motive seem less about appeasing Israel and France’s formidable Jewish lobby, and more to do with pandering to the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Israeli opposition to any deal with Iran over the 10-year nuclear dispute is, of course, obvious. On the eve of the latest talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was almost apoplectic in urging Western states to reject “a deal of the century for Iran.”
Equally as disconcerted about a possible accord were the Wahhabi monarchies led by Saudi Arabia, which view Shia Iran as an archenemy for influence in the Middle East. Only days before the latest round of P5+1 talks in Geneva, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al Faisal told the Washington Post in an interview that his country was opposed to lifting sanctions on Iran.
One of the most striking political developments in recent months is the alignment of Israel with the House of Saud and the other Persian Gulf Arab regimes in terms of foreign policy objectives and adversity towards Iran.
Another salient development has been the strategic economic cooperation between France and the Persian Gulf oil kingdoms. Major sectors of interest include energy, water and electrical infrastructure, construction and weapons sales.
The French government has been embarking on an aggressive bilateral investment drive with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.
In April this year, Paris hosted a Saudi-French Business Opportunities Forum attended by 500 businessmen from both countries.
French ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Bertrand Besancenot, said, “Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of France in the region and the bilateral relationship is of paramount importance in the economic field,” pointing out that bilateral trade has doubled over the last five years.
In July, French company Veolia won a $500 million contract to build and operate water desalination plants in Saudi Arabia. That contract is reckoned to be the biggest of its kind in the Middle East, and from the French point of view, it is a model for the future, given that water and electricity infrastructure right across the Persian Gulf oil kingdoms is a vital development need for decades to come.
France is also courting capital investment and commerce from Qatar and the UAE. At stake is the purchase of French Rafale fighter jets worth billions of dollars underlined by the fact that France is in sharp competition with arms exporters from the US, Britain and Germany.
Another lucrative sector that the French are eyeing in the Persian Gulf Arab countries is nuclear energy. French nuclear company Areva is vying with Western competitors to build and operate nuclear energy plants in the UAE, which is something of an irony given France’s apparent objections to Iranian plans for the same technology.
“France calls for increased investment from Qatar,” read a headline in the Financial Times on 24 June.
The report said, “French President François Hollande used a weekend visit to Qatar to call for more investment from the gas-rich Gulf state to boost job creation in France.”
The FT added, “Mr Hollande told business leaders he hoped more Qatari money could be lured into France’s services and industrial sectors, with a reciprocal rise in French companies implementing the grand development ambitions of this fast-growing Gulf state.”
And the Qataris have obliged Hollande’s plea for funds. The two countries have set up a joint investment vehicle worth some $400 million to direct Qatari petrodollars towards French businesses. So far, Qatar’s total investment in France has reached an estimated $15 billion, with shares in flagship French companies, such as energy giant Total, construction firm Vinci, media business Legardere, water and electricity supplier Veolia, and even football team Paris Saint Germain.
Qatar’s ruling Al Thani dynasty has also been buying up luxury Paris real estates.
When France’s Hollande visited Qatar in June, he brazenly pitched his country as an alternative foreign investment destination to Britain and Germany.
France’s deteriorating economic situation and Hollande’s slump in the polls – he is the most unpopular French leader ever – can only but intensify the French dependence on Persian Gulf Arab money. This week, the international credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s downgraded France for the second time on the back of ballooning national debt, trade deficit and unemployment.
In this context it becomes clear why France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius acted to scupper the P5+1 talks this weekend in Geneva. By wrecking a potential deal with Iran, Fabius was no doubt bidding to please Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf Arab regimes with a view to securing billions-of-dollars-worth of urgently needed capital.
Mouthing disingenuous concerns, Fabius vandalized with a spanner in one hand and a begging bowl surreptitiously in the other.