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Where French President Macron Stands On The Iran Nuclear Deal

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The relationship between President Trump and President Macron is often described as a special relationship. But is it a relationship that will bear fruit for France on some of the thorniest issues between the two countries? We're going to put that question to Joseph Bahout. He's a former consultant to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and he's part of Macron's delegation to Washington this week. Welcome.

JOSEPH BAHOUT: Thank you to - for having me.

CHANG: So you have called Macron - and I'm going to use your words here - you've called him savvy, brilliant, ambitious. How do you think he's performed so far during this visit?

BAHOUT: I think the visit so far is excellent, especially compared to the expectations of the French party and the French delegation. I think that Macron is keen on keeping the close bond and the chemistry between the two parties because he knows that this is the best way with someone like Donald Trump, who likes to be flattered, who likes to be loved sometimes, to keep the bond and maybe - maybe - sometimes prevent him of going too far in the other direction.

CHANG: On the Iran nuclear agreement, President Trump set May 12 as a deadline for countries to fix the deal or he says he will walk away from it. Macron has said that he doesn't want to scrap the deal, that he is willing to renegotiate it. So what do you think? What should France propose to incentivize President Trump to remain in the deal?

BAHOUT: First of all, if the U.S. is withdrawing from that deal, it doesn't mean that the other powers will also pull out. What Macron is bringing as a bargaining let's say equation to Trump is the following - let us try to cut this in two. You can withdraw. We go on dealing and making commerce and exchanges with Iran. Iran stays in the deal. We are benefiting of that. You are benefiting by withdrawing and telling your opinion that you have scored a point, you have - withdrew from a bad agreement. And at the same time, we use this time that is remaining in order to enforce harsher measures against Iran on two other fights that are not in the Iran deal, that are Iran's behavior in the region and the ballistic activity.

CHANG: So just to be clear, France is expecting the U.S. to withdraw from this deal.

BAHOUT: Yeah. They - I mean, I think on May 12 Trump will announce that the U.S. is free of that deal. However, saying that doesn't mean automatically that the U.S. will impose sanctions of a sort, of a kind that could blow the entirety of the deal, including the European part, meaning things that have to do with the international banking and financial system. If this doesn't happen, it means that we can go on doing business with Iran. At the same time, what you gain is that we keep Iran entangled in the non-enrichment engagement.

CHANG: Let me ask you this, though. The Iranian foreign minister told NPR that renegotiating this deal will open up a whole Pandora's box. Those are his words. And it would send the message that even if you enter an agreement with the U.S., the U.S. could always change the terms later. So is it even credible to be talking about renegotiating the deal or adding side agreements to the deal at this point?

BAHOUT: Now, at that point no one is talking about renegotiating or adding points to the deal. What the two parties within the P5+1 - meaning France, Europe and the U.S. - are negotiating among themselves, not with the Iranians, about how to manage the U.S. exit from the deal without blowing up the deal and without forcibly renegotiating it. Once the deal is breached by one of the parties, you have a new reality.

On May 13, the Iranians will have also to answer a question themselves. Do we want to consider that because of the American position we want to blow up the deal completely, go for enrichment again? Or do we accept that the U.S. is withdrawing? Of course we're not happy. We will make it known. But at the same time, we keep the benefits that we can keep of that deal. To my sense, they will make a pragmatic decision because Iran is ultimately pragmatic, because what it really wants is the survival of its regime.

CHANG: Joseph Bahout is a former consultant to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thanks for joining us.

BAHOUT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.