Esfandyar Batmanghelidj explains why the French proposal for a “new deal” with Iran isn’t going to work:
But that rapport has been used to advance a decidedly French policy towards Iran rather than a consensus policy devised among the parties to the JCPOA. This is the central flaw of the French approach. France is increasingly diverging from what is considered politically advisable or feasible in European capitals, in Moscow and Beijing, and most crucially in Tehran.
It is ironic that such an avowed defender of multilateralism as Macron should be so bad at coordinating his diplomatic efforts with multiple parties at the same time. Macron has proceeded on the assumption that keeping Trump on board is what matters most, and so he is making proposals that will appeal to Trump–but only to Trump–while alienating most or all of the other parties to the agreement. Unfortunately, Macron is just rewarding Trump’s bad behavior by trying to cater to his unreasonable demands in the vain hope that this will resolve the crisis that Trump has created. In the process, he has broken with all the other governments that are content to keep the deal as it is. Macron’s mishandling of the issue underscores the importance of building an international consensus.
Batmanghelidj points out that sustained hostility to the JCPOA from the Trump administration has started to affect the debate inside Iran for the worse:
Although Zarif and other members of the Rouhani government continue to insist that their government does not wish to seek a nuclear weapon, hardliners have pushed to make an NPT exit part of mainstream debate. The government newspaper Iran, recently ran a front page piece entitled “JCPOA: Everything or Nothing” in which “exit the NPT” was given as one of three policy options available to Iran in the face of the deal’s collapse.
In this context, Macron’s proposal to pursue a “new deal” seems horribly tone-deaf, and the French approach has rightly earned criticism from the likes of Italy, Austria, and Sweden, who are sympathetic to Iranian claims of appeasement. The French gambit will either fail in Washington due to overconfidence in Trump’s pliability or fail in Tehran due to an underappreciation of political realities.
U.S. hostility to the nuclear deal has always played into the hands of Iranian hard-liners, and it continues to do so. The possibility that Iran might exit the NPT all together remains remote, but it would be a calamitous outcome for U.S.-Iranian relations and for the treaty itself. North Korea withdrew from the NPT and then tested their first nuclear device. Iranian withdrawal wouldn’t necessarily lead to the same result, but Iran would no longer be constrained by the treaty’s limitations at that point. If that happened, the damage done by blowing up the JCPOA would be far greater than we already feared.