What Happened In The Iran Talks?

We’ll be deciphering this in greater detail tomorrow, but the invaluable Laura Rozen’s account is well worth a read. All was going well, it seems, until the French made a sudden turn:

“In fact, the French are the big upset in the way of an agreement,” the senior diplomat said, on condition his name or nationality not be named. He said there is a joint P5+1 draft text of a framework agreement the parties have been working on. Good progress was being made, including in the five hour trilateral meeting between Kerry, Zarif and Ashton Friday. But the French say it is not our text, the diplomat said, a point which Fabius himself subsequently confirmed.

What was the objection?

France’s concerns were reported to center on wanting Iran to halt work on the Arak heavy water facility during the negotiations, as well as on Iran’s stockpile of 20% uranium. Another P5+1 diplomat told Al-Monitor Saturday that no one is telling the diplomats here what is going on, describing the situation as ‘outrageous.’

That’s a strong word, even though the public face is one of continued negotiations. No one said this would be easy. But few foresaw that the division would not be between the P5 and Iran but between the P5 and France. Marcy Wheeler thinks she may have the reason for the French volte-face:

Several weeks after this WSJ article describing a staged Bandar bin Sultan tantrum about US actions, it was revealed the “Western diplomat” involved was a representative of France:

“Diplomats here said Prince Bandar, who is leading the kingdom’s efforts to fund, train and arm rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, invited a Western diplomat to the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah over the weekend to voice Riyadh’s frustration with the Obama administration and its regional policies, including the decision not to bomb Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons in August … Disappointed, the Saudis told the U.S. that they were open to alternatives to their long-standing defense partnership, emphasizing that they would look for good weapons at good prices, whatever the source, the official said.

Ah, yes, an arms deal for the French from the Saudis. That would explain a lot. So in the new Great Power game in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel are aligning with France. This could be a bump in the road or an attempt to derail the detente entirely. The Brits remain optimistic:

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, asserted that Western representatives were united in the last hours of the meeting over the proposals left for Iran to consider during the break. Mr. Hague told the BBC that “narrow gaps” remained with Iran but that much had gone right in Geneva. “On the question of will it happen in the next few weeks, there is a good chance of that,” he added. “A deal is on the table, and it can be done. But it is a formidably difficult negotiation. I can’t say exactly when it will conclude.”

Let’s hope they can thread the needle. Can someone else bribe the French? They’re clearly open for business.