French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian: regional security issues essential in Iran nuclear talks

Speaking at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, Jean-Yves Le Drian says negotiations with Iran need to extend beyond the nuclear issue

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) listens to a speech during his visit to Abu Dhabi's Sorbonne University in the Emirati capital, on October 28, 2019.  / AFP / KARIM SAHIB
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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that international talks with Tehran must cover regional security issues as well as the nuclear file, in an apparent nod to longstanding position by the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Speaking in French at a student award ceremony at the Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, Mr Le Drian assured the Emirates that maintaining regional security is a priority for France.

Paris, together with Germany, led a European drive to accommodate Iran after the US pulled out of the international nuclear accord last year and impose sanctions to contain what Washington and its Arab allies regard as destabilising action through its Shiite militia clients in Syria and Iraq, as well the Houthi militia that Iran backs.

“I want to tell our Emirati friends that we will never compromise on the security of our allies in the region,” Le Drian said, adding that this was his 20th visit to Abu Dhabi as a minister.

“We would like to see in-depth negotiations with Iran that will not only include Iran’s nuclear programme but also regional security issues,” he said.

Mr Le Drian said France, along with the UAE, wants de-escalation across the region’s hotspots. He met on Sunday with his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdallah Bin Zayed and on Monday with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

“We, along with UAE authorities, want to prioritise diplomacy,” he said.

“The tensions we see today are having an effect on other crises, especially in Yemen,” he said, commending what he described as the Emirates’ courageous decision to redeploy its troops.

“All our efforts must be put into supporting the relaunching of the UN-backed political process.”

Mr Le Drian described the recent agreement between the Southern Transitional Council and the internationally recognised government as helping to contain the fragmentation of the country and achieve a truce across Yemen.

The veteran French minister, who has been continuously in government since 2012, first as defence then as foreign minister, arrived in Abu Dhabi as the US announced the operation in northern Syria that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi.

Baghdadi’s demise is “another blow” to ISIS after the caliphate Baghdadi had declared in Iraq and Syria evaporated, Mr Le Drian said.

However he called for re-activating the nearly defunct international coalition against the group, called the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, so as to ensure the group’s defeat.

“I salute the operation of our US ally but the fight against ISIS is not over. We must pursue this fight collectively, within the frame of the international coalition against ISIS, while taking into consideration regional developments,” the minister said.

While Mr Le Drian held high level talks in Abu Dhabi, his visit also aimed to promote French commercial interests and France’s cultural presence in the Emirates. He opened a new section of a French school and touring the Sorbonne Abu Dhabi campus, the only branch of the prestigious university in the Middle East.