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By Jason Simpkins
Tensions continue to escalate between France and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Months after President Nicolas Sarkozy followed the lead of the United States in calling for a tougher line against Iran, France’s Foreign Minister has gone a step further. One of France’s most popular politicians, Bernard Kouchner indicated Sunday that the world, particularly the European Union, should “prepare for the worst,” when it comes to dealing with Iran, “which is war.”
Soon after making that statement, Kouchner backed away from it, pointing out that no conflict was imminent – even as he noted that “major plans were in preparation.”
Iran’s back-and-forth exchanges with the United States are almost commonplace, but the word ‘war’ is usually left out of the equation – except for in speculative media reports that purport to know what top U.S. leaders are thinking.
As evidenced by Operation Iraqi Freedom, the United States is usually reluctant to use the word ‘war’ even when it’s actually at war. Ironically, the only time the word seems to come up is in the context of the ‘War on Terror,’ which isn’t really a war at all.
Nevertheless, France put it right out there and Iran was not pleased to hear it.
“We hope that such statements are superficial and do not reflect France’s realistic and strategic points of view,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said Monday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.
Hosseini referred to the Kouchner’s words as “convulsive,” saying they contradicted “the historical, cultural, and civilizational dignity and position of France.”
He also pointed out that, “at a time when the issue of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities was removed from the agenda of the EU ministerial session recently, Kouchner’s claims are not only in contradiction with EU’s macro policies on the Islamic Republic of Iran but are also aimed at questioning the credibility and competency of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
So far, the IAEA has been unable to verify some “important aspects” concerning the nature and scope of Iran’s nuclear program, but has said nuclear material has not been diverted from peaceful use.
Over the weekend, Kouchner also asked French corporations to refrain from investing in Iran. He indicated that France and the United States had joined forces in an effort to implement an unofficial boycott of Iranian projects.
Kouchner said that “we have asked a certain number of our big companies not to respond to Iranian tenders; I think this has been heard and we are not the only ones to have done so.”
The brunt of the responsibility will now fall on Total, the energy group currently at odds with Iran over of the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas field, the South Pars project. The Iranian South Pars field is the northern extension of Qatar's North Field. It covers an area of 500 square miles, and accounts for 10% of world reserves and 60% of Iran's total gas reserves.
Christophe de Margerie, the chief executive of Total, was quoted by the Financial Times as saying the $15 billion project had stalled.
“The estimated cost has doubled between the time we were negotiating the contract and now,” Margerie said. “So if we cannot solve this issue, we will be stuck.”
Iran's acting oil minister said Monday the multi-billion-dollar liquefied natural gas agreement with Total needed “reconsideration” because of differences over the price Tehran would be paid for its gas.
It will be interesting to see whether or not the dispute is resolved, or if, given the political turmoil, Iran and Total each go their separate way.