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France and Iran upgrade diplomatic status despite mutual suspicions

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Bahram Ghasemi, currently the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, to become the new ambassador to France ATTA KENARE / AFP

France appointed a new ambassador to Iran after a diplomatic spat with Tehran over an alleged bomb plot in Paris. Meanwhile, Paris is struggling to maneuver between the EU’s attempts to keep its part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and allegations that Tehran is carrying out acts of terror on European soil.

 


The new French ambassador, Philippe Thiébaud, was previously posted in South Korea and before that as a member of the Board of Governors at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In return, Iran may appoint Bahram Ghassémi, the current spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, according to Iran’s Mehr News Agency, quoting “unconfirmed reports.”

The rebirth of Franco- Iranian ties comes after a difficult period of mutual distrust.

In June last year, European security services arrested four people suspected of planning an terror attack on a yearly gathering of the National Council of Resistance, an opposition group, at a conference center in Villepinte, just outside Paris.

The suspects, two Belgian nationals of Iranian origin, a French Iranian and an Iranian diplomat are currently under detention in Antwerp, awaiting trial.

In October, France security services said it was ‘likely’ that Iran was behind the bombing attempt, and expelled Iranian embassy personnel.

Assissination Accusations

At the same time, The Netherlands and Denmark expelled diplomats after suspected assassination attempts on Iranian citizens on their soil, allegedly orchestrated by Tehran.

Just this week, Iran expelled two Dutch diplomats, and Holland retaliated by recalling its ambassador ‘for consultations.’

The accusations against Iran have put the EU in a difficult position, as the UK, France and Germany, as three of the six members of the “P5 +1” (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) try to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Deal in jeopardy

The deal is in jeopardy after US President Donald Trump unilaterally walked away from the deal, saying it didn’t offer enough guarantees that Iran wouldn't develop an atomic weapon.

The EU partners of the deal said they would remain committed to the deal, and late last year started to develop plans for a non-US Dollar “mechanism” that EU countries could use to circumvent US sanctions while continue to do business with Iran.

Ironically, on January 8, the EU also imposed new sanctions on Iran, singling out the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS) and two individuals. The sanctions were proposed by The Netherlands, together with the UK, France, Germany, Denmark and Belgium als “expressed their grave concern” with the Iranian authorities about “probable involvement in hostile activities on European soil,” but also stress that the sanctions are in no way connected to Brussels’ attempts to continue trade relations with Tehran.

Washington has condemned the European trade mechanism, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying he was “disturbed and disappointed” by it.