There is no doubt about Iran’s diplomatic support for the Shiite insurgency. But Tehran is concerned about the Houthi actions, because they came at an inappropriate moment and can disrupt the Iranian nuclear deal.
Valdaiclub.com interview with Jean-Michel Vernochet, an expert on the Middle East. He is the author of Egarés (Lost), a key book in understanding the events in the region. Vernochet is known for his incisive journalistic investigations and is considered to be a leading expert on the military and political situation in the Middle East.
What is your view of the situation with Iran’s nuclear dossier?
US President [Barack] Obama has a broader strategic vision that goes way beyond Israel’s shortsighted regional policy. Obama thinks about Ukraine. His advisors look at Asia and see the dangers that lie in store for America, for example, elections in Taiwan.
Going back to Iran, it should be noted that France’s position is glaringly two-faced. Mr. Fabius put on the same kind of act at the Syrian peace conferences in Geneva. These conferences failed one after another over unacceptable demands and the show of intransigence. As for the regional powers – Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar and others – they oppose any meaningful talks with Iran, while France is playing its own game, which I would describe as rather counterproductive. When someone wants to thwart talks he makes demands that are knowingly unacceptable, for example, the return of Crimea to Ukraine.
However, this time the White House really wants to achieve success and this is a good sign. As we have just celebrated Nowruz, the first day of spring or the Equinox, Iran should embark on a true path of negotiations. A great deal here depends on the local elite and the real will for compromise.
I think that new factors have emerged during the course of negotiations that could provide sufficient guarantees for Iran to pursue a peaceful nuclear program but at the same time block the development of its nuclear weapons.
If France’s position on Iran’s nuclear program is ambivalent and uncertain, then what is its stance on the Israeli program?
I don’t think we should talk about France’s position. This is the position of Messrs. Fabius and Francois Hollande, but not the position of France! Even if it is considered to be the position of Paris and the French government, the Socialist Party turned into an ultra-minority in the recent regional elections. It only exists through alliances and contrary to the laws of nature. This refers to the ruling class, which is pursuing a policy that is becoming less consonant with Obama’s policy than with the Tel Aviv-Riyadh axis. And this is nothing new! For quite some time now France has not had its own sovereign policy. Mr. Fabius’s policy envisions choices and options that are at odds with French national interests, European interests, and the interests of the world as a whole!
Could you comment on the actions of Houthi insurgents in Yemen? Can they impact the Iran’s nuclear dossier?
This is an absolutely extraordinary development, since the US is not part of the anti-Houthi coalition, which includes a dozen countries. Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are there. The US only provides financial and technical support, as well as satellite data on the insurgents’ positions. There is no doubt about Iran’s diplomatic support for the Shiite insurgency. However, it’s unlikely that Iran is directly involved in hostilities. Yemen is packed with weapons as it is. The Houthi have combat aircraft and modern enough air-defense systems. They have purportedly shot down two Saudi fighter-bombers.
Furthermore, Tehran is concerned about the Houthi actions, because they came at an inappropriate moment and can disrupt the Iranian nuclear deal. The US has played a brilliant game but it is important to remember that sometimes the CIA, the Pentagon, and the State Department have very serious disagreements, even on the verge of the show of force. If the US was really to give the go-ahead to an operation against the Houthi, then it should happen after the talks in Switzerland.