By Dan Williams
PARIS – Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday urged French President Emmanuel Macron to revisit a 2018 proposal for a new Iran deal, saying the current diplomatic stalemate threatened a Middle East arms race.
With U.S President Joe Biden trying to row back on his predecessor Donald Trump’s withdrawal from a 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Israeli officials have privately suggested the European powers in the talks are now tougher on Iran than Washington.
This in turn means that Lapid’s visit to France, his first abroad since becoming caretaker premier last week, was a chance for him to lobby Europeans on that front.
“Back in 2018, you were the first world leader to talk about the need for a new deal with Iran,” Lapid said after the two warmly hugged each other on the front steps of the Elysee presidential palace.
“You were right then, and you are even more right today,” Lapid said, adding: “The current situation cannot continue as it is. It will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which would threaten world peace.”
Despite the warm embrace and Macron’s praise of Lapid, the French leader did not mention his 2018 comments, which were made just before Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, at a time when Europeans were trying to convince him to stay on.
“I would like to remind you once again of our desire to conclude the negotiations on a return to respect for the JCPOA as soon as possible,” Macron said.
“We agree with Israel that this agreement will not be enough to contain Iran’s destabilising activities, but I remain more convinced than ever that an Iran that would be on the threshold of nuclear (power) could carry out its activities in an even more dangerous way,” he added.
“We must therefore defend this agreement.”
Since the U.S. walkout, Iran has been in breach of the deal, ramping up projects with bomb-making potential – though it denies having such designs. Its technical advancements have set a ticking clock on the so-far fruitless negotiations.
Israel is not a party to the nuclear negotiations. But its worries about its arch-enemy and veiled threats to take preemptive military action if it deems diplomacy a dead end keep Western capitals attentive. It has a de facto front with Iran in Lebanon, home to Hezbollah.
As Lebanon’s former colonial administrator, France has additional influence in Beirut – whose economic crisis-hit leaders were jarred on Saturday when Israel shot down three Hezbollah drones launched towards one of its Mediterranean gas rigs.
“Israel will not sit back and do nothing, given these repeated attacks,” Lapid said.
The Karish rig near Lebanon’s coast will produce gas not only for Israel, but eventually also for the European Union, the official said, tapping into EU countries’ quest to replace Russia as an energy supplier since it invaded Ukraine.
(Additional reporting by Tassilo Hummel and Michel Rose; Writing by Dan Williams, Ingrid Melander; Editing by David Gregorio and Ed Osmond)