Jan 17, 2007

French Diplomatic Mission To Iran Scuttled

Interesting that the Saudis (who are rumored to be involved in a broader covert action against Hezbollah in Lebanon) are portrayed here as having a vote in this matter.

At a time when most world powers have forged a united front against Iran because of its nuclear program, President Jacques Chirac arranged to send his foreign minister to Tehran to talk about a side issue, then abruptly canceled the visit earlier this month in embarrassing failure.

Mr. Chirac's troubles stemmed from his deep desire to help resolve the crisis in Lebanon before his term runs out in May. To that end, he decided to seek the support of Iran, which, along with Syria, backs the radical Shiite organization Hezbollah, three senior French officials said in describing the effort.

So he planned to send Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy to Tehran, only to call off the trip two days before it was to have taken place, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on diplomatic issues.

Both Mr. Douste-Blazy and senior Foreign Ministry officials concluded that such a trip was doomed to fail and that it would send the wrong signal just weeks after the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved sanctions intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program, they added.

That put Mr. Douste-Blazy in the uncomfortable position of having to tell Mr. Chirac that he did not want to go, one senior official said. ...

When Mr. Douste-Blazy visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt this month, the foreign ministers of both countries also informed him that they strongly opposed any such initiative.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, was so determined to stop the visit that he spoke to Mr. Douste-Blazy in uncharacteristically blunt terms -- "I am going to tell you, do not go" -- according to a senior official familiar with the conversation. ...

Iran, meanwhile, has officially expressed its displeasure that the trip was canceled.

For the moment, Jean-Claude Cousseran, a former head of France's foreign intelligence service and former ambassador to Egypt, is planning to make the trip to Tehran, leaving open the face-saving possibility that the foreign minister could follow at a later, unspecified, date, a senior French official said.

But the initiative is so ad hoc and divisive that one senior official said even Mr. Cousseran’s trip might not take place.

Mr. Chirac's initiative is surprising because he has consistently taken a hard line against Iran and its nuclear program, privately expressing the view that the Islamic republic cannot be trusted. While other global players, including Russia and China, regularly send senior officials to Tehran, France had joined with Britain, Germany and the United States in pressuring Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities or face sanctions in the Security Council. In fact, France largely drafted the initial resolution in tough language that was watered down in the end.

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