PARIS, 5 Aug (IPS, with reports from AFP) - France's idea of involving Iran directly in talks to end the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is a risky venture but may well prove inevitable, French analysts said Tuesday.
They were reacting to French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy's meeting on Monday in Beirut with Iranian opposite number Manouchehr Mottaki, and to his remarks concerning Iran's "important stabilising role in the region".
The comments -- condemned as "outrageous" by French Jewish leaders -- appeared to indicate a willingness to include Teheran in the search for a settlement to three weeks of violence, in direct contradiction of American and Israeli policy.
It is a high-risk initiative. It has certain logic, but it implies a willingness on the part of Iran and Hezbollah to alter their behaviour.
"It is a high-risk initiative. It has certain logic, but it implies a willingness on the part of Iran and Hezbollah to alter their behaviour", said Francois Gere of the French Institute for Strategic Analysis.
For Gere, the very fact that Douste-Blazy and Mottaki were unable to agree on a joint statement at the end of their talks is a sign of the delicacy of the French approach.
"French diplomacy is trying to pull off something that is extremely subtle and complex", he said.
Francois Heisbourg, of the Foundation for Strategic Research, agreed that "it would on the face of it be extremely surprising for Iran to play a stabilising role in Lebanon. And if it did, the next question is obviously what is the price Iran gets in return -- on its nuclear programme".
Iran has in recent days toughened its position in the stand-off with outside powers over its nuclear programme, indicating that the Israeli offensives in Gaza and Lebanon will have an impact on its next step.
According to some reports, Iran is not hiding its desire to see the two issues, -- the Israeli-Hezbollah war with the nuclear problem --linked to each other.
On Monday the UN Security Council adopted a resolution giving Teheran one month to suspend uranium enrichment, with the threat of sanctions if it fails to comply. The Persian emirate of Qatar was the only Council member to vote against the resolution, saying there was no urgency with the region being on fire and also why not waiting until 22 August, the date the Iranians sat for their response to the latest “package” offered to them by the United Nations.
For Dominique Moisi, of the French Institute for International Relations, "France's underlying idea -- even if it denies it publicly -- is to say to Iran: 'Show yourselves to be responsible on the Hezbollah issue and we will be more understanding on the nuclear issue".
But according to Moisi, this approach risks handing Iran a political victory to add to the symbolic triumph of Hezbollah, which has already "won the war by not losing it".
"When you treat totalitarian regimes in this way, not only are they not grateful, they despise you. They reckon you are ready to do anything to avoid a fight", Moisi said.
But the same experts believed that an Iranian role in negotiations to end the fighting may in the end be impossible to avoid.
"The basic point is that no one wants to take part in a multinational force to disarm Hezbollah. The feeling is that if Iran can do it, then that'll get us out of a tricky spot", said Moisi, who was quoted by the French news agency AFP before the emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference held on Thursday in the Malaysian capital of Kula Lumpur, endorsing Muslim nations “readiness” to take part in an international force at the Israeli-Lebanese borders.
“Iran calls for an immediate cease-fire, knowing well that the root of the conflicts in the region is the Zionist entity, which must be removed”, said Iranian hard line President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad at the meeting that surprised political observers because of the absence of Arab leaders.
"Encouraging Iran to come out into the open is not necessarily a bad policy. Tehran is after all at the heart of what is going on", said Heisbourg.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Monday that any deal to end the hostilities must have the agreement of "all states in the region" -- a formulation that includes Syria, which like Iran is accused of backing Hezbollah.
France and the United States have to tell openly and plainly to Bashar that if he does not shut all routes of arms supplies to Hezbollah, he would be toppled.
However President Jacques Chirac has said that the Syrian regime was "at odds with security and peace", while Douste-Blazy at the weekend ruled out "entering discussions with Syria", drawing a harsh criticism from the Syrian authorities
According to Gere, "The aim (of France) is to speak to the dominant power -- Iran -- in the hope that the weaker power -- Syria -- realises that she risks isolation. The objective is to break the Syria-Iran alliance".
But to other experts of the region, this aim can only be achieved if the international community, particularly France and the United States tells openly and plainly to Bashar that if he does not shut all routes of arms supplies to Hezbollah, he would be toppled.
However, in his view, by giving prominence to Iran, one (France) makes it more difficult breaking the Iran-Syria strategic alliance. “What a weaker partner would do when aggressed? Taking shelter with the strong friend. This is what Assad might do”, said Mr. Alireza Nourizadeh, an independent Iranian journalist and political analyst based in London.
Tehran and Damascus have a strategic alliance sealed after Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980. The tow countries signed a new military agreement last month during the visit of the Syrian Defence Minister to Tehran.
Early after the Israeli attack on Lebanon, Iran’s President warned the Jewish State not attacking Syria. “Any aggression against Syria would be considered as attacking Iran”, he said.
“Bashar is much weaker than Khameneh’i. His regime is much more vulnerable to international pressures than that of the mullahs. Therefore, he is much more receptive to such threats than Iranian leaders”, said Ali Nourizadeh . ENDS FRANCE IRAN 5806