News / Middle East

Are Saudi Arabia, Israel Behind France Scuttling Nuclear Talks?

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius leaves the Intercontinental hotel on the third day of closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva November 9, 2013.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius leaves the Intercontinental hotel on the third day of closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva November 9, 2013.
Cecily Hilleary
Talks between Iran and a group of six Western nations aimed at freezing Iran’s nuclear program are scheduled to resume on November 20th in Geneva.  A first round of talks broke down after the so-called P5+1 and Iran failed to agree on a short-term deal that would have eased sanctions on Iran and allowed it to continue low-level enrichment.  The US says any eventual deal struck with Iran will be "failsafe" and will guarantee that Iran has no nuclear weapons capability. 
Analysts say two issues scuttled the talks; Iran claims it has the right to enrich uranium and wants this acknowledged in writing, and France demands that Iran stop construction on a heavy water reactor at Arak.  Meanwhile, observers say “frenemies” Israel and Saudi Arabia are campaigning behind the scenes to make sure Iran’s nuclear program never goes military. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin has been vocal against what he calls "a very bad deal."

“This is a country that is participating as we speak in the mass slaughter of men, women, children, tens of thousands of them in Syria,” he told America’s CBS News recently.

Israeli television reported that a French lawmaker -- and good friend of Netanyahu -- phoned the French Foreign Minister during the Geneva talks, warning him that Netanyahu would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if the P5+1 nations didn’t push tougher conditions on Iran.

Josef OlmertJosef Olmert
Josef Olmert
Josef Olmert
“The chief concern is simply the fact that the Israelis believe that the agreement as it is being shaped will not stop the Iranian nuclear program, but will give the Iranians time to recover from the imposition of the sanctions that may have stifled their economy,” Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert and adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina, said.

Olmert believes opposition boils down to the issue of verification. 

“You may recall the big celebrations in 1994 when the Clinton Administration claimed to have reached a similar agreement with North Korea,” Olmert said. “And we know what happened later on.  The verification wasn’t there, and the North Koreans are either already having the nuclear bomb or very close to it.” 

And he added, “The pro-Israel community in the U.S. is mobilized,” believing President Barack Obama will face heavy pressure from lawmakers to impose further sanctions on Iran until Tehran surrenders all nuclear weapons capability.   

Olmert says a deal is inevitable and necessary – but it should not be rushed into.

“There is a sense that somehow the American Administration wants to get rid of all of its nagging problems right now," he said.

Saudi, French and Israeli concerns meet

Saudi Arabia may be less vocal than Israel, but the Kingdom is just as angry over the proposed deal with Iran.  Relations between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are among the most bitter in the region and can be measured by how they react to regional crises—in Syria, Iran backs the Assad regime and Saudi Arabia backs the Sunni rebels.  Analysts say the Saudi’s fear Iran is working to undermine Sunni Arab governments in the Gulf.  And they fear that if Iran builds nuclear bombs, they will be the first target.

 “They don’t believe Iranian protestations that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes.  And they are uncertain with the position of the US and are very concerned that the US is going to enter into a bad deal,” said analyst Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“And so less noticeably, perhaps, than Bibi Netanyahu, but not invisibly, the Saudis have been very active in lobbying in the absence of the US, where they seem to have given up, they’ve certainly been lobbying the French and, one can assume, the British and other significant groups as well,” he said. 

Simon HendersonSimon Henderson
Simon Henderson
Simon Henderson
Henderson cites a number of meetings between Saudi and French officials in recent weeks, including a visit to Jeddah by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to discuss a new defense contract. 

Last month, France sealed a $1.49 billion deal to overhaul Saudi ships and tankers and is discussing the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Kingdom and fighter jets to Qatar. Also, last July, France signed a deal to provide the UAE anti-aircraft radar and spy satellites. 

Most recently, the BBC reported  that Riyadh has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects and could get these bombs “at will” from Islamabad.  Saudi Arabia, which signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and advocates a nuclear-free Middle East, has often said that if Iran reaches nuclear weapons capability, it will pursue its own nuclear deterrent.  

For its part, Iran this week signed a joint statement with the IAEA that will allow nuclear inspectors to visit key nuclear sites such as the Arak nuclear reactor and the country’s main Gchine uranium mine in Bandar Abbas.  

And in what is being seen as a boost for both the Iran and U.S. diplomats who need concessions from Iran to move the talks forward, the IAEA Thursday released its quarterly report on Iran, which shows Iran has dramatically slowed enrichment since electing Hassan Rouhani president.  It also reports Iran has frozen construction of the contentious Arak reactor.

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Comment Sorting
by: Kinston from:
November 17, 2013 4:40 PM
We are taking about a regime that lies, supports terrorism, threatens to wipe another state off the map, is feared by other neighbours, is totally undemocratic - and we need to look for conspiracies to question why some countries are treading carefully? How bizarre! Why not applaud the French for showing a little common sense?

by: sara from: california
November 16, 2013 6:31 PM
Iran and America share common interest, they must reach an agreement and avoid any military confrontation.

by: Kira from: UK
November 16, 2013 10:23 AM
why are we "negotiating" with Iran...??? (or, we are actually being blackmailed by Iran?) - a country of such demonstrated deceit and hostility. Why are we talking with such revolting Iranian liars..?? haven't we learned our lessons, twice, of such depraved regimes... they hold hostage their own population... do you really think that the Islamic clergy cares for their imbecilic constituency...??? I am beginning to be very frightened by are willingness to appease again... no Churchills are to be found today in Britain... only squirming bags of appetites...

by: Joe Balans
November 16, 2013 5:40 AM
Yes Dr Hans is quite correct on his viewpoint. How the US side stepped military action on Syria illustrates how policies can be changed instaneously with threats of military action, BUT the war ongoing, costing more lives daily. All that has been done is the dismantling of chemical weapons, AND the war? the war is allowed to continue. "You simply cannot threaten a duck with water" The West needs to understand this.

by: Observer from: USA
November 15, 2013 11:01 PM
"Are Saudi Arabia, Israel Behind France Scuttling Nuclear Talks?" well Is sky blue?. In any case, France had its 15 second of fame plus several fat weapons deals from rich Arab emirates. Now is up to US and Iran to act and reach a compromise. That will benefit the region as a whole. US is not a hired agent to do the dirty work of some corrupt regimes in the middle east.

by: Dr. Hans from: Germany
November 15, 2013 6:01 PM
there is no denying the the triple forces of Saudi Arabia (money - huge money) France (the voice of righteous European conscience) and Israel (military intelligence) is a formidable interest. But its not "new" the three have shared interests and shared intelligence for decades - France, Britain, Israel and Germany are training each other intelligence officers in the open. so, the connection is as solid as could be. the wild card is the US, who traditionally have been a stabilizing influence in world affairs, today they are agents of imbalance and betrayal. What Obama did to Mubarak has stunned the West to an unprecedented extent. Raising questions of his grasp of reality. The point here is that Iran should not have Nuclear capability period. If they do acquire Nuclear capacity - Nuclear war that will implicate Europe and Russia is a virtual certainty. Saudi Arabia is a formidable presence on the world stage... France and Israel share real bonds of affection and liberal institution and powerful military capabilities... and Israel... well, we all know Israel is a legend - and i know Germany wants its Jews back... without them we have stagnated intellectually... and that is a fact!!

by: Stehling from: NYC
November 15, 2013 2:03 PM
The political and personal disaster that is the Obama presidency

The political and personal disaster that is the Obama presidency has been exacerbated as the AIPAC Israel lobby quietly pulled the rug from under him at Geneva, this week. Notwithstanding his pleading with Congress for patience to allow Secretary, John Kerry, to negotiate a deal with Iran, he was again slapped in the face.

There is now no morning that Barack Obama can awake without wondering what new personal humiliation will be heaped upon him by a House of Representatives chosen by the Israel lobby and fully subscribed to its agenda.

In the Middle East, he is viewed by both Jews and Muslims as an incompetent president without power and without allies who is a lame- duck who should never have been elected to high office.

In this his second term, when he was expected to enforce his will over Congress, he is unable to get any bill passed no matter how small or inconsequential. And as for foreign policy, he is obliged to submit every proposal to the lobby for its authority to proceed or otherwise.

Not merely an embarrassment but a liability to America and the world that shows how democracy can be corrupted by anonymous lobbyists and powerful corporations. It is a specific warning to Europe and the EU to control the activities of unelected, political lobbies very, very carefully.


by: Godwin from: Nigeria
November 15, 2013 1:14 PM
The objective of the Iran nuclear deal has been an end to uranium enrichment, not '...allow it to continue low-level enrichment'. That is a misrepresentation. Iran must stop nuclear programs within Iran and only import nuclear rods/fuel to power the so-called civilian energy program. That Saudi Arabia is afraid of Iran's nuclear program shows the potency of inherent danger it poses to the world and to the region. Relying on France can be bet, but Britain just reopened its diplomatic office in Tehran as a sign it is more willing to sabotage the efforts of the P5+1, IAEA and the UN concerning Iran's nuclear pursuit.

Already it is dangerous having Sunni terrorists all over the places, how more devastating when Saudi Arabia begins a pursuit of nuclear weapons. It has been common knowledge that Iran's nuclear pursuit will surely trigger nuclear arms race everywhere in the world, and most dangerous aspect of it will be when the world will not understand whom to hold accountable for stray nuclear fumes when both Saudi Arabia and Iran, both dangerously positioned with devastating terrorist networks, possess nuclear weapons. The Obama administration is exploring into dangerous waters that will land the earth on dangerous platforms. When Iran gets nuke, it is as well as it is in the hands of Hezbollah, Hamas, all which are dangerous terrorists. When Saudi Arabia possesses same, it is as well as belonging to al qaeda - the more global menace of a terrorist. The US should do all in its powers to stop this dangerous phenomenon called Iran nuclear program. Can't see how Iranian oil has become more valuable than Saudi oil; or what else is the attraction towards Iran?

by: Yves Eljas from: california
November 15, 2013 1:09 PM
The attempt at blaming Saudi Arabia and Israel is disingenuous. France knows the value of appeasement deals, and paid the Chamberlain price in WW II.
Even though Saudi Arabia and Israel both hate this toothless deal making, for very different reasons , doesn't not necessarily mean they are wrong.
The cry for manipulation by these states smacks of the old belief of Jewish world conspiracy. Yes, I know, Saudi Arabia is named too, and that gives this VOA article a semblance of objectivity. But it is only semblance.

The fact that the Western World in general and Obama's America are ready to accept any Iranian temporizing deal is a testimony to the their lack of resolve. WW III will look less unthinkable as soon as the ink dries

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