Posted on October 7, 2019
“Maximum diplomacy,” is how a senior UK diplomat described this year’s flurry of efforts to build confidence, and even move closer – but still not close enough – for a historic meeting between the US and Iranian presidents.
“We need to find a way through the US’s maximum pressure’ and Iran’s ‘maximum resistance’,” the diplomat explained, while adding there had to be “robust responses to Iranian misbehaviour”.
The procession of would-be peacemakers sweeping in and out of hotel suites in New York included leaders of France, Germany, Japan, Britain, Pakistan, Iraq, Oman and more. Some audacious efforts were revealed in whispered accounts which didn’t stay secret for long, and some startling encounters captured by smartphones in the crowds.
It was French President Emmanuel Macron’s mega-mediation, months in the making, which seems to have yielded the greatest dividend.
Once he returned to Tehran this week, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani praised France’s efforts and described a four-point plan for the start of Iranian-American talks as “acceptable”. Faint praise from one side – but the clearest signal yet that a process was inching forward, however slowly, after many months of a diplomatic deadlock.
It’s a process so sensitive, with so many competing interests and hardliners on so many sides, that it could also so easily collapse.
The Iranian leader blamed President Trump for the failure of the French plan.
But the Iranians also pulled back from the brink.
“They offered to the Americans an exchange of papers which would set out their guarantees but the Americans refused to do this,” explained a diplomatic source.
France’s plan is said to include Iran’s commitment to never seek nuclear weapons, to comply with obligations in a long-term framework for its nuclear ambitions, and to pursue regional peace, including in Yemen, through negotiations. The US would commit to ending sanctions and allow Iran to resume its exports, including its vital oil supplies.