The Middle East dimension of Macron’s trip to Washington

French President Emmanuel Macron is leading European efforts to defuse a possible military confrontation in Iran, which was on the agenda of his talks in Washington last week. There he reiterated European concerns that the US could be lured into using force against Tehran until the nuclear issue with Iran is resolved and negotiations resume.

Both the US and Europeans are also concerned about the upcoming right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and its impact not only on the Palestinians but also in terms of the potential military confrontation with Iran, both directly and in proxy arenas Syria.

And in Syria, there are Russian concerns about Turkey’s determination to set up a “buffer zone” that requires a military ground operation, which could increase the risk that Moscow and Tehran will have to intervene to defend the regime. This, in turn, has raised concern in Washington and NATO capitals, which are keen to keep the alliance – of which Turkey is a part – cohesive and focused on Ukraine.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made it clear that his country intends to launch a military ground offensive in Syria to create a buffer zone on Syrian territory, enforced by Turkish forces, to counteract the threat posed by the “terrorist threat” over the limit to suppress.

While Iran appears poised to assume a larger role in Syria to protect Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government, Mr Erdogan’s threats put Moscow in a challenging position. If it fails to protect its ally, the Syrian regime, it could show weakness, but any moves to the contrary could entrench Russia further in the Syrian conflict.

Macron is leading European efforts to defuse a possible military confrontation in Iran

Ankara also has the advantage; Mr. Erdogan understands his country’s importance to NATO and also understands that disclosing a weakness in Russian forces, Syria’s main protector, would be welcomed by Western powers, despite their other concerns about his Syrian intervention.

These concerns are indeed significant. Europeans fear that the situation in Syria could escalate into a full-fledged conflict, not only between Turkey and Iran and Russia, but also between Israel and Iran. Indeed, Iran remains of crucial importance to European powers, who do not trust Mr. Netanyahu’s confrontational stance and fear that this stance could draw the US into conflict as well.

For these and other reasons, during his visit to Washington, Mr. Macron is said to have asked for guarantees that the US would not be drawn into such a conflict with Iran. Mr. Macron, like many European and even some US leaders, is concerned about a possible Israeli adventure in Iran and Palestine. American voices, including two former senior officials from previous administrations – Aaron David Miller and former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel C. Kurtzer – have urged President Joe Biden to be firm with Mr Netanyahu and his “far-right government”. In a comment for the Washington PostThey called on the government and regional governments that have established ties with Israel to oppose Mr Netanyahu’s coalition government as it plans to build more Israeli settlements, escalate violence against the Palestinians and the facts on the ground to change in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The same concerns are believed to have been raised in Mr Macron’s talks with Mr Biden.

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But Mr. Macron is primarily focused on Iran in the region. He delivered a European message to Washington stressing that Europe was not ready to support military action against Tehran. Such an attitude is, of course, music to Iran’s ears. Because Iran still hopes to drive a wedge between the US and Europe and hopes that the latter can revive nuclear talks and bring the Biden administration back to the table.

However, for there to be any hope of resuming talks on a nuclear deal, new conditions may need to be met. First, Iran must halt its nuclear activities under a strict surveillance regime. Second, the issue of Iranian missiles and drones must be included in the negotiations, as well as Iran’s regional activities, such as supplying arms to its partners and proxies.

In other words, the French equation is to get everyone to step back from the abyss. This message has two main objectives: Israel, which will back down if it finds that the US will not provide it with military support. and Iran, who will breathe a sigh of relief. The additional French message to Iran is that France and European powers can help Iran lift sanctions by returning to negotiations and reaching an agreement, but this will require Iranian good behavior at home and abroad to buy time until talks can resume.

Ultimately, there are two opposing views on the outcome of President Macron’s visit to Washington. The visit is believed to have been successful in advancing a strategy that will ease tensions. But the other view is that the success is more imaginary and satisfies Paris’ desire to play deal broker without solid guarantees from Washington. Only time will tell what turns out to be right.

Published: December 04, 2022, 02:00 p.m


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