Unprecedented insight into the Iran Deal

A unique first-hand account of the negotiations leading to the Iran nuclear deal has been published by the former French Prime Minister, Laurent Fabius, in The Washington Quarterly. The article unflinchingly discloses the innermost workings of one of the most important agreements of international diplomacy of the new millennium.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – commonly known as the ‘Iran Deal’ – was implemented earlier this year as an internationally agreed nuclear programme for Iran. Explaining his motivations for publishing his account of the negotiations, Fabius writes “Many things have been written and said about how this major agreement came into being, some true, others less so. This is why I believe that, without waiting for the archival materials to be made public, a precise, straightforward description of the complex discussions as expressed by one of the participants—in this case, myself—would be of use.”

The ground-breaking article details Fabius’s personal experience of the historic talks, shedding new light on both the events and the people involved in the deal. The article also provides startling insight into the constantly shifting moods between nations during negotiations. The ‘E3+3’ grouping of countries (France, Great Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia, and China) which came together to successfully negotiate with Iran proved at times to be an uncomfortable union with internal disagreements about priorities and strategy, which caused diplomatic difficulties of its own. When Fabius began personally participating in the talks in 2012, he describes the situation he arrived at as a ‘dialogue of the deaf.’

The article exposes many stumbling blocks that threatened to jeopardise the negotiations and underscores how precarious the eventual success of the deal was. In one emblematic episode in Geneva in 2013, Fabius portrays a tense exchange between the French policy chief and the U.S. Undersecretary of State, Bill Burns, with regard to a perceived betrayal of confidence: the Americans had not informed the French of the content of (or even existence of) secret discussions with the Iranians. This kind of political disunity coupled with secondary issues such as an occasional lack of clarity about the method of negotiation led to frustrations for the French. At times, impasses were reached that were so intractable that ‘meetings were called for no reason other than meeting.’

However, Fabius’s article concludes by reflecting on the enormity of the achievement that after twelve years of crisis and twenty months of negotiation, a momentous deal was achieved. Of particular interest is the view offered of the role that France played in negotiations, namely ensuring that the deal was ‘sufficiently robust and credible’. Fabius also believes that the deal will ultimately become the main foreign policy legacy of the U.S. during the Obama administration, as well signalling the beginning of a new era of international cooperation with Iran. We are warned however that ‘we must always remain vigilant and firm in monitoring compliance with the agreement in years to come’. 

This revelatory new account will undoubtedly prove to be a vital resource for those interested in the Iran deal, as well historians and commentators of modern international diplomacy.