Will France’s new government take a laissez-faire approach to Iran?

May 8, 2012 | Ahron Shapiro

Will France's new government take a laissez-faire approach to Iran?

The election of French Socialist party leader Francois Hollande to his country’s presidency on Sunday – a victory over Nicolas Sarkozy which had been expected following his strong showing in the first round of voting on April 22 – is certain to impact French foreign policy regarding Iran, as well as Israel.

Sarkozy had been seen as one of Europe’s most strident opponents to Iran’s nuclear program. According to Hollande’s advisers, as well as many analysts, France is unlikely to continue in its role as a spearhead for European action on Iran under its new government.

In Teheran, the Iranian government has called upon the incoming French government to reject Sarkozy’s policies and adopt a new, “realistic approach” to its relations with the Islamic Republic.

“We hope that the new government (of France) will see the reality of international developments, specially those in the Middle-East, and the righteousness of our nation and country through a realistic approach, and show a respectable and fair attitude,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast told the Fars News Agency.

While the degree remains to be seen, by Hollande’s advisers’ own account, there is little doubt a change in approach is in the offing.

In an article written before the final round of elections, Jamey Keaten from the Associated Press asked one of Hollande’s chief advisers about France’s willingness to use its military under Hollande’s leadership or support foreign military intervention in Iran and elsewhere.

“Would a Hollande presidency be as tough abroad?” Keaten asked, rhetorically.

Jean-Louis Bianco, a Socialist Party lawmaker who was President Francois Mitterrand’s longtime chief-of-staff, said Hollande “of course” could envision the use of force abroad — as long as authorized through the United Nations.
“We have to give the Annan plan all the chance it needs,” said Bianco, perhaps the best-known name on Hollande’s team of foreign policy advisers, in a telephone interview.
The author of a 2008 parliamentary report on Iran, Bianco said international sanctions against the Islamic regime over its controversial nuclear program are having an impact.
“Our line would be one of great firmness,” he said, but insisted France would invariably oppose military action even if Iran builds a nuclear weapon. “We won’t support an Israeli or American military action in Iran … An Israeli strike won’t prevent the Iranians from continuing” their program, he said.


Diplomatic analysts also expect to see new policies from France.

At Commentary, Jonathan Tobin says that Sarkozy’s willingness to lead the European charge on Iran is unlikely to be emulated by Hollande, which may cause a breakdown in European resolve and increase pressure on the Obama Administration to lead on the Iran issue.

To the surprise of many, the Europeans have been consistently ahead of Washington when it came to doing more than talking about stopping Iran. For this, Sarkozy deserved much of the credit. But his exit will create a void on the issue that Hollande is not likely to fill even if, at least on the surface, his position is not much different from that of his predecessor.
That will leave EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is already in charge of the P5+1 talks, with a much freer hand to craft a deal that will please the ayatollahs more than [US] President [Barack] Obama. Though few believe the Iranians would actually make good on any promises made in the talks, there is a strong possibility they would be willing to agree, at least in principle, to an accord that would satisfy Europeans who are eager to back down from their threat of an oil embargo later this year. No other European leader, including a beleaguered British Prime Minister David Cameron, is likely to fill Sarkozy’s shoes on this point and stop Ashton from playing the Iranians’ game.

On the Fox News website, former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said he believed France might support the weakening of Iranian sanctions in the near future.

On Iran’s increasingly menacing nuclear weapons program, Hollande’s election almost certainly means a weakening of the already weak EU position, and decreased pressure on Tehran. As Iran’s negotiator’s press for legitimisation of their well-advanced uranium enrichment program, Hollande will likely be sympathetic to accepting what Iran already has in place, and even relaxing new EU economic sanctions set to come into effect this summer.

Writing in the Asian Times ahead of the second round of French elections, US-based Iranian political scientist Kaveh Afrasiabi, who has generally taken the line that the US should be much more accommodating of Teheran, said that Iran was fervently hoping for a socialist victory in order to weaken the West’s ability to maintain a credible military option against her nuclear program. In fact, the article was carried on the website for the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran.

Hollande – if president – could demonstrate a foreign policy shift by adopting a more independent posture than the US-subservient approach of his predecessor, who closely followed the US’s footsteps in the Middle East, and especially in punishing Iran over its nuclear program.
In turn, this could spur the White House to be more serious about finding a diplomatic solution, instead of constantly playing with the fire of military confrontation with Iran.

During the campaign, Hollande had failed to win over the hearts and minds of French Jewry. Community leaders had expressed trepidation, not only over Hollande’s Iran policy but also his overall Israel policy, where there was worry he might be influenced by his left-wing allies.

On April 25, Richard Prasquier, president of the CRIF, the umbrella organisation representing the French Jewish community voiced this concern in an op-ed for Ha’aretz, in a piece that some said was tantamount to an endorsement of Sarkozy.

“The main question that arises for the Jewish community, if François Hollande becomes the President of France, is the influence that might be exerted by those socialist leaders who have negative views towards Israel’s policies. Beyond the socialists, but still in Hollande’s camp, are the leftist parties and the Greens who express a deep hostility towards Israel and are at the forefront of every anti-Israel demonstration, declaration and petition. The fact that Jean Luc Melenchon, the charismatic leader of the renewed Communist party, only managed a disappointing 11% result, might well reduce its impact on French foreign policy, but I expect a surge in leftist and Communist manifestations of anti-Zionism.”

In the aftermath of the election, Prasquier sought to mend bridges with the new President.

JointMedia News Service’s Alina Dain Sharon has also written about the effect of Hollande’s victory on French Jewry.


In Israel, there certainly seemed to be considerable preference for Sarkozy over Hollande. Eighty-one percent of French expatriates in Israel voted for him in the first round.

That number increased to 92.8 percent in the second round of voting.

On Monday, Ha’aretz’ Barak Ravid weighed the impact of Hollande’s victory on Israel.

Hollande, Ravid noted, was an unknown to Israel.

The incoming French president, Francois Hollande, is not only a mystery to Israel’s public, but also to its politicians. Hollande has never visited Israel and, in general, never meddled with foreign affairs during his political career. Throughout his presidential campaign, Hollande never criticized Israel and overall presented a balanced stance, while his goal was to avoid upsetting anyone.

While nobody expects Hollande to be as strong on Iran as Sarkozy, Ravid said that Israel is not expecting radical changes to French policies either.

Jerusalem does not currently expect a dramatic change in French policies toward Iran or the Palestinian issue. If any change does come, it will be in the style and personality of the French president, and not in his essence. “It will be harder to be even more against the settlements and for a Palestinian state than Sarkozy was,” said a Foreign Ministry official. “And like the French saying goes, everything changes, yet everything remains the same.”

Ravid’s colleague at Ha’aretz, columnist Sefy Hendler sees the new France as more likely to openly oppose the policies of the Netanyahu Government, as well as accept a compromise with Iran.

In terms of the most significant issue on the international agenda, Iran’s nuclear reactor, it is safe to assume that in the meantime, the current state of intransigence will continue. At the same time, if the Iranians propose a partial agreement to Western powers in the upcoming nuclear talks, it will be interesting to see if France will continue to hold a hard- right position on the demand that the Islamic Republic cease enriching uranium.

Ahron Shapiro




(Photo: Shutterstock)

The politics of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar

Nov 22, 2022 | Update
Taraneh Alidoosti, one of Iran's most famous actresses, appearing publicly without her headscarf and holding a sign with the Kurdish words for "Women, Life, Freedom". Despite the regime's bloody repression, Alidoosti has vowed to remain in her homeland "at any price" and support the families of those killed or arrested in the protest crackdown  (Photo: Instagram)

Iran’s protest wave continues 

Nov 11, 2022 | Update
8c2ebfa2 C3e1 A33a 9cdc 07bd16e00b2f

After election win, Netanyahu set to be Israeli PM again

Nov 4, 2022 | Update
Israelis are going to the polls yet again on Nov. 1, the fifth Israeli election in less than four years. Will this vote break the political deadlock? (Image: Flickr, IDF)

Israel goes to the polls – again

Oct 28, 2022 | Update
The complex Israel-Lebanon maritime boundary dispute appears to have been settled after many years of negotiations, with Israel accepting the green line in the above diagram, except within five kilometres of the coast (This map was originally published on the MEES website).

Israel-Lebanon maritime border agreement

Oct 13, 2022 | Update
A screenshot from a video posted on Sept. 17 shows an injured protester in Saqqez, Iran, being rushed to a medical facility. (Video: Twitter)

Insights into Iran’s protest movement

Oct 7, 2022 | Update



Image: Twitter

Apparent mass amnesia at Brighton Secondary College hearing

Left to Right: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

The Russo-Iranian alliance comes to Europe

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi (source: Dean_Calma)

UN nuclear watchdog head’s shocking statement on Iran

(Photo: Shutterstock)

The World Cup and Qatar’s Hypocrisy

Image: Twitter

New Government will confront terror wave 

Image: Twitter

Apparent mass amnesia at Brighton Secondary College hearing

Left to Right: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

The Russo-Iranian alliance comes to Europe

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi (source: Dean_Calma)

UN nuclear watchdog head’s shocking statement on Iran

(Photo: Shutterstock)

The World Cup and Qatar’s Hypocrisy

Image: Twitter

New Government will confront terror wave