Anything But Cecil: The Franco-American Iran-Nuclear Diplomatic Mystère

 

Okay, gentle ladies, gentlemen, and wingèd seraphs of Ricochet, today is Anything But Cecil Day. Indeed, it’s Anything But Whatever’s on Drudge Day, because while that’s on the front page, a lot of other stories aren’t being covered. Here’s an item about which, perhaps, you’ve heard, but I figure Cecil might be crowding out everyone’s news feeds to the extent that it might not hurt to bring it up. And I have a bit to add to it.

As Josh Rogan reported for Bloomberg, a senior diplomatic adviser to President Francois Hollande seems to be in a bit of a disagreement with John Kerry about the Iran nuclear deal:

Secretary of State John Kerry has been painting an apocalyptic picture of what would happen if Congress killed the Iran nuclear deal. Among other things, he has warned that “our friends in this effort will desert us.” But the top national security official from one of those nations involved in the negotiations, France, has a totally different view: He told two senior U.S. lawmakers that he thinks a Congressional no vote might actually be helpful. …

Audibert expressed support for the deal overall, but also directly disputed Kerry’s claim that a Congressional rejection of the Iran deal would result in the worst of all worlds, the collapse of sanctions and Iran racing to the bomb without restrictions.

“He basically said, if Congress votes this down, there will be some saber-rattling and some chaos for a year or two, but in the end nothing will change and Iran will come back to the table to negotiate again and that would be to our advantage,” Sanchez told me in an interview. “He thought if the Congress voted it down, that we could get a better deal.” …

[US supporters of the deal] all say that if the Congress doesn’t lift U.S. sanctions, the rest of the international regime will collapse and allied countries will rush to do business in Iran. That would make the U.S. sanctions moot. ….

Audibert disagrees with that analysis, too, according to the two lawmakers. He told them that if U.S. sanctions were kept in place, it would effectively prevent the West from doing extensive business in Iran. “I asked him specifically what the Europeans would do, and his comment was that the way the U.S. sanctions are set in, he didn’t see an entity or a country going against them, that the risk was too high,” Sanchez said.

Audibert also wasn’t happy with some of the terms of the deal itself, according to Sanchez and Turner. He said he thought it should have been negotiated to last forever, not start to expire in as few as 10 years. He also said he didn’t understand why Iran needed more than 5,000 centrifuges for a peaceful nuclear program. He also expressed concerns about the robustness of the inspections and verification regime under the deal, according to the lawmakers.

After this came out, there was a stern, formal denial from the French embassy, which claimed Audibert had said no such thing. Audibert himself said he had said no such thing. Then two more congressmen chimed in and said, “That’s exactly what he said, actually.”

Here’s what Audibert says he said, in an interview with the Nouvel Obs (my translation):

“Obviously, I never said something like that,” he told the Obs, “Here’s what I really said and how things really went down. The day before the deal, the American Ambassador in France, Jane Hartley, asked me to welcome a few American representatives to present our position on the text we’d just signed. Can you imagine for a second that I could have criticized it, in the presence of the American Ambassador? That’s absurd! Obviously, I defended it step-by-step. I explained why I though it was the best deal possible.

“At one point, Congresswoman Sanchez asked me if we could have obtained more. I repeated to her that it was the best deal possible. She insistently asked me: ‘But what would a better deal look like in an absolute sense?’ I told her that in such a case, there would without doubt be fewer centrifuges in operation and the accord would be for an indefinite duration, not for 15 years. But I told her again that under these circumstances, this was the best deal. And I obviously never told her that if Congress voted no, we could get more. And I never said that the measures for the control and verification of the nuclear program were insufficient.”

Jacques Audibert explained that Loretta Sanchez was right about one point. “The representatives, in effect, asked what Europeans would do if Congress shot down the deal. And it’s true, I told them that in my opinion, no European business would take the risk of doing business in rIan, because they’d be at risk of being subjected to American sanctions, as they were recently in the case of one big French bank. That’s obvious.”

So, according to the original article, Loretta Sanchez, Mike Turner, Paul Cook, and Tom Marino all say, “He said it and we’re sticking with it.” The French Embassy and the US Ambassador to France deny that he said it. He says — as you can see — that he said most of it, pretty much, but of course wouldn’t say that with the American Ambassador hovering right over him.

So what do you guess really happened here?

Published in Foreign Policy, General
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There are 36 comments.

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  1. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Zafar:

    Bill Walsh:Lying is tactical in diplomacy.

    And, sadly, in politics.

    Actually in politics it’s strategic.

    • #31
  2. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Eric Hines:

    Zafar:

    Bill Walsh:Lying is tactical in diplomacy.

    And, sadly, in politics.

    Diplomacy is politics.

    Eric Hines

    all diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means….

    Zhou Enlai.

    • #32
  3. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    So we should believe the politician instead of the diplomat because?

    • #33
  4. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Zafar:So we should believe the politician instead of the diplomat because?

    Because in this context it’s highly unlikely a Democratic politician would pull that out of thin air.  Look at the motivation: he has plenty of motivation to say that and then lie about it.  She doesn’t, and she has witnesses.

    • #34
  5. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Zafar
    So we should believe the politician instead of the diplomat because?

    Because there are 4 of them telling the same story?

    • #35
  6. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Kozak:Zafar So we should believe the politician instead of the diplomat because?

    Because there are 4 of them telling the same story?

    Well, that and because Audibert is confirming parts of their story. My guess is that there may have been honest misunderstanding of honest bad reporting involved in this, too: I mean, I’m guessing here, but this language is ambiguous: “He basically said, if Congress votes this down, there will be some saber-rattling and some chaos for a year or two, but in the end nothing will change and Iran will come back to the table to negotiate again and that would be to our advantage.”

    What does “basically” mean? I can imagine she asked, insistently, for his prediction about what what would happen if Congress voted it down, and that whatever he said amounted in her mind to “saber-rattling and chaos.” What does “chaos” mean? It can mean some very grave things. What does “in the end nothing will change?” It could mean many things. And she may have added the “that would be to our advantage.” That may have been a literal quote — just what she said, in other words — but imagine it spoken. If you put a pause between “again” and “that” it can sound like her reflections on what he said.

    And it’s possible the other four backed her up because they felt her comments were “also how we understood it,” even if “not precisely what he said.”

    I don’t know what was really said, but can imagine many scenarios in which they kept pressing until they heard the words they wanted to hear, or they didn’t hear words they didn’t want to hear — and we’ll never know. I just found it interesting that Audibert himself went on the record to agree — in slightly different language — that he said some of those things, and in doing so also stressed, “But it’s unimaginable that I would have put it that way in front of the US Ambassador.” And it is: I find it exceptionally unlikely that he would have violated protocol using quite the language Sanchez attributed to him. But he may have suggested this, overall, in a very long-winded, French-style presentation, and who knows what his body language was like, or what questions he was responding to, specifically.

    • #36
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