French Ambassador Gérard Araud: the Iran nuclear deal and ISIS

French Ambassdor to the US, Gérard Araud, speaking at the Council

There should be no need to rush into a nuclear deal with Iran to satisfy a self-imposed deadline - the sanctions on Iran are working, and can always be tightened further if Iran does not make acceptable concessions, according to Gérard Araud, the French Ambassador to the US. For this reason the French have pushed for taking a harder line on Iran in the nuclear talks in Switzerland. "We do believe the Iranian regime has reached a conclusion that they need to put an end to these sanctions. We want an agreement, but the Iranians need an agreement," said Araud. The imposition of a deadline [at the end of June] is purely arbitrary, he said - "if we have a deal, it will be at the very last moment - or after the last moment - that is how negotiations happen."

But while calling for caution in negotiating the various clauses of any agreement, Araud said it was better to have a deal than not to have a deal. "Otherwise we are faced with the military option," and that is not what anyone wants.

Araud said it was clear that from the very beginning the Iranian nuclear project was designed as a military program, not a civilian program - "otherwise why would they start out with so much enrichment of uranium?" - rather than building civilian power-generating facilities that they claim they want for their own energy needs. Without seeking to justify Iran's behavior, Araud pointed out that Saddam Hussein fired chemical weapons at Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, and nobody in Europe or the US protested. Iranians had a reason in their own minds to seek ways to protect themselves. Responding to a question about whether Iran was irredeemably evil, Araud said "there are no evil countries in foreign relations," just different sets of interests. "If I were Iranian, I would probably want to have nuclear weapons too. Iran is defending its national interests. The problem is, we don't agree with it. It is up to us to say, no, we don't want you to have nuclear weapons."

Araud, who has served twice in Israel, the second time as France's Ambassador, said that Iran "is a threat to the Arab world, and not to Israel." In Iran almost nobody - "except for a small radical fringe" - cares about Israel, he said. What the Iranians care about is their own neighbors - and most of their borders are now destabilized, with fighting in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the threat from ISIS, Araud said that 1,400 French citizens have gone to join ISIS, and many have already come back - "some of them may post a threat." 25% of French ISIS fighters are converts to Islam, the rest are born Muslims. Araud rejected the idea that economic hardship was making people join ISIS. "It is not because you are unemployed that you became a terrorist, it is due to the radicalization of your religion." All religions have gone through periods of radicalization," said Araud. "Today we need to engage with the Islamic world to stop this process of radicalization in the Muslim religion."