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Published on July 22, 2015
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to France Inter

Paris, July 21, 2015



Q. – The other subject that concerns you very directly is of course the Iranian nuclear issue. Yesterday the United Nations Security Council and the European Union gave the green light to the agreement reached in Vienna last week. You were involved in the negotiations. Can you say clearly today that following this agreement, Iran will not have an atomic bomb in the next 10 years?

THE MINISTER – Yes, it’s crystal clear. This was the goal, because we had every reason to believe that Iran had started a whole series of efforts to obtain the atomic bomb. And the atomic bomb would have been extremely dangerous, not only because it’s dangerous [in itself] but also because it would have triggered a situation whereby other, neighbouring countries would have wanted to obtain the atomic bomb, in an already very explosive region.

The agreement we reached after 12 years of negotiations – I myself only did, as it were, the last three years – is a truly major diplomatic agreement.

Perhaps in a moment we can go into the details. Two days ago, I had a phone call – which I very much appreciated – of congratulations from Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, and we agreed that it was without doubt the most important diplomatic agreement for an extremely long time.


Q. – What was France’s role and your role in the final straight of the negotiations? Were you the hawk described in the press, or at any rate in favour of a harder line towards Iran?

THE MINISTER – When you reach an agreement – there was the 5+1 on one side, i.e. the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, and Iran on the other side –, when there’s an agreement, it means everyone’s done their bit: you can’t say it’s due to X or it’s due to Y.

Q. – Were you – to rephrase the question – the “bad cop” towards Iran?

THE MINISTER – No, but admittedly France – in this case, I was its representative – was very firm. Why? Because, on the one hand, it’s about the nuclear programme and you have to be extremely serious. There are a whole series of technical measures to take, and we couldn’t lie to ourselves, especially because I was surrounded by experts from the CEA [French Atomic Energy Commission].

And also for another reason, which is really crucial: we would have signed a watered-down agreement, but what would the consequence have been? Neighbouring countries – I’m thinking of the countries in the region – would have said: “you’ve signed an agreement, but it’s absolutely not going to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons. So we ourselves…”

Q. – Which Israel is saying today about your agreement…

THE MINISTER – …so those countries would also have said they were going to acquire nuclear weapons. And then we’d have had an entirely nuclearized region, which was a frightening risk. And what I did, through this attitude of constructive firmness, was to ensure, along with my colleagues, that the agreement was extremely robust, and we wouldn’t have signed an agreement that wasn’t robust. And specifically, with regard to your question, every measure was taken, including at the level of verification, to ensure that in the next 15 years – whatever Iran’s intentions – it’s impossible for that country to acquire nuclear weapons.


Q. – Are we going to pay for that firmness today, at a time when Iran is going to reopen its doors to Western companies? The German Vice-Chancellor was in Tehran only yesterday…


Q. – You still haven’t been there.

THE MINISTER – No, I’ll be there next week.

Q. – Oh, you’re announcing it to us this morning!


Q. – With a delegation of business people?

THE MINISTER – No, initially I’ll be going as a politician. My Iranian colleague, Mr Zarif, invited me. Incidentally, he’d also invited me previously and I hadn’t gone, but now I think everything’s in place for me to go there, and I’ll be having talks on every subject with him.

So to answer your question, will French businesses be penalized? The answer is no. Firstly because we had a significant presence in Iran in the past which the Iranians were entirely satisfied with. Also, the Iranians are very straightforward about the areas – and there are many – where our businesses excel and are competitive. (…) Moreover, as you know, international political life resembles life in general: I don’t think you ever lose out by earning people’s respect.


Q. – Will you be meeting President Rouhani next week?

THE MINISTER – Yes. That’s scheduled. And I’m delighted to be going. (…)

Q. – If I’ve understood correctly, the agreement with Iran is valid for only 10 years. Does this mean that in 10 years’ time Iran will be able to continue its nuclear research?

THE MINISTER – No. It’s true that the issue of the agreement’s duration is quite complex – it’s an agreement about 100 pages long, with a lot of annexes – but the implementation periods are not the same in the different areas.

The 10 years are specifically about the limitation on the number of centrifuges. Today, Iran has 20,000 centrifuges; we reached an agreement at the end of which it will be able to use only 5,060 centrifuges. A centrifuge is what enables uranium to be enriched, and if you want to move towards an atomic bomb you must have 90% enriched uranium. We got the number of centrifuges to be much smaller.

There are provisions concerning weapons sales which are valid for five years, and provisions on ballistic missiles which are valid for eight years. But there are also other provisions which apply over 15 years, and that’s the figure we must bear in mind, because for 15 years, if Iran doesn’t comply with its obligations we’ll be able to reintroduce sanctions against the country. Moreover, there are 20-year and 25-year obligations and there are also perpetual obligations.

To conclude – because I don’t wish to be too technical – there’s a notion we must bear in mind called “breakout time”: the time Iran would need, if it violates its obligations, to have the atomic bomb. Today it’s two months, and for [the next] 10 years it will be at least one year. So you see this enables us to have a much stronger capacity for reaction and protection than previously.

As you know, before signing the agreement on France’s behalf and after talking to the French President about it, I had a conversation with the Director General of the IAEA; he’s the one in charge of verification. I asked him: “With what we’re preparing and what we’re going to sign, will you have the means to verify that Iran won’t be able to obtain the atomic bomb?” He answered yes.


Q. – With Iran’s reintegration into the concert of nations, a very major economy is going to enter the global market. Will France play its role?

THE MINISTER – I’m keen to say that we signed this agreement not for commercial reasons – even though there may be commercial consequences – but for strategic reasons.

Let’s think about it: what was the alternative? The alternative – and John Kerry put it very well – was war, and when you ask yourself whether or not the agreement is good, you mustn’t make an absolute judgment, you must make a judgment based on the alternative: were there any reasonable people who wanted or want there to be a war with Iran? No, and I think we must bear this in mind.

As for trade, we’re getting Iran to renounce nuclear weapons. In exchange, after being subject to sanctions, particularly economic sanctions, Iran gets the chance for them to be lifted. But they won’t be until we’re certain it’s fulfilling its military obligations.

But it will open up a new market, with 80 million inhabitants; there are a whole number of prospects in terms of transport, aviation, agrifoods and many other areas. The French had a presence in the past; now they no longer have much presence. It will give us opportunities for our businesses to be there; a MEDEF [French employers’ organization] delegation will also be going there in September.

Moreover, at my suggestion, there’s been an exchange of letters between the Americans on the one hand and the Europeans on the other – there were three of us
– to ensure that businesses which are going to trade with Iran can’t be penalized. I don’t know if you remember the Paribas case. That company had traded with Iran and Cuba, among others – and it’s quite unique in historical terms – and Paribas had to pay a $9-million fine.

We don’t want the same thing to happen if sanctions, having been lifted, are restored. Without going into over-complex details, we reached an agreement with the Americans to ensure that everyone – not only the Americans but the Europeans and the others too – could trade. The goal is to enable the Iranian people to improve their living standards./.

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