Source: Wall Street Journal – By Matthew Dalton and Carol E. Lee (French Minister Laurent Fabius Wary on Iran Nuclear Deal)
ABUJA, Nigeria—French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said a possible nuclear deal with Iran risks sparking a nuclear arms race in the Middle East unless the agreement grants international inspectors access to Iranian military sites and other secret facilities.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Fabius insisted the ability to inspect such sites be part of a final agreement with Iran to ensure Tehran doesn’t covertly try to build a nuclear weapon. The warning highlights a persistent divide between Western negotiators and Tehran, which has demanded Iranian military sites remain off-limits to international inspectors.
“The best agreement, if you cannot verify it, it’s useless,” said Mr. Fabius. “Several countries in the region would say, OK, a paper [has been signed] but we think it is not strong enough and therefore we ourselves have to become nuclear.”
Mr. Fabius, who was in Nigeria to attend the inauguration of the country’s new president, has emerged as the most outspoken skeptic among the six nations in talks with Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions. At times, Mr. Fabius has taken a harder line than officials in Washington, warning in 2013 that the West risked being suckered into a “fool’s game.”
The White House says Iran agreed in principle to inspections of military facilities as part of the framework reached in April.
“The president will not sign an agreement that doesn’t reflect the commitments that were made in the context of the political agreement that was announced in April,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
On other fronts, Mr. Fabius has helped draw France closer to the Obama administration in confronting threats to the West, including the Russian-backed rebellion in eastern Ukraine and Islamic State’s seizure of territory across Syria and Iraq.
Mr. Fabius said the situation in Ukraine seems to be improving, despite sporadic fighting that continues to break out between rebel groups and government forces around Donetsk airport and elsewhere. The peace agreement signed by Ukraine, Russia and European nations in Minsk in February is more or less holding, he said.
The European Union must decide in the coming months what to do about the bloc’s sanctions against Russia for supporting the rebel groups in eastern Ukraine. Those sanctions are set to expire at the end of July.
Mr. Fabius said he discussed the issue with Germany and the U.K. in recent days. “The probability is that the sanctions will remain the same,” he said, “but they could be alleviated if afterwards, more and more, we are going along the Minsk agreement.”
He left open the possibility that the sanctions could be lifted step-by-step before the end of December, which is the deadline for full implementation of the Minsk agreement. But that may be a hard sell for the rest of Europe: Germany and other nations want the measures to remain fully in place at least until the end of the year, EU diplomats say.
France on Tuesday will host a meeting of the coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to attend before he crashed his bicycle in the French Alps and fractured his femur, prompting him to cut his European trip short.
Mr. Fabius said the coalition needs to review its strategy after recent military advances in Iraq by Islamic State, also known as Daesh. France has been conducting airstrikes in Iraq against the group, but Mr. Fabius remains opposed to bombing it in Syria, arguing that doing so would inevitably help the forces of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
“We think that Bashar and Daesh are two faces of the same coin,” Mr. Fabius said.
He said the West must also confront the spread of Islamic State into other regions such as Libya and the Gaza strip. “Personally, I have a very bad feeling about what Daesh could do in Gaza,” Mr. Fabius said, adding it would be very serious “if Daesh could take over the Palestinian cause.”
Mr. Fabius’s comments on Iran suggest that negotiators still have big differences to bridge before reaching a final agreement. After settling on the broad outline of a deal at the beginning of April, Iran and the six nations—China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.—gave themselves until June 30 to fill in the details.
U.S. and European officials are under pressure to reassure Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim nations in the region that a final deal lifting sanctions on Iran would be stringent enough to prevent Shiite-ruled Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
Mr. Kerry was in Geneva on Saturday for talks with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.An Iranian negotiator told Iranian state television that the meeting didn’t resolve major differences.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech last week he wouldn’t allow Iran’s “brazen enemy” to visit military centers or interview scientists.
“This permission will not be granted in any way. Both our enemies and those who are waiting for the decision of the Islamic Republic should know this,” he said.
Mr. Fabius said if Tehran wants to build a nuclear weapon in violation of the agreement, it would inevitably do so at a military site or other secret facility.
“Therefore, if you say you cannot check any military site, then there is no [real] agreement,” he said.
Mr. Fabius said an accord should also specify how much time should be allowed between the request to inspect a site and access actually being granted to inspectors. “If it is too long a delay, they have enough time to change everything,” he said.