PARIS — If the Obama administration wants to lead from behind in imposing sanctions to halt Iran’s nuclear weapon drive, it shouldn’t look for France to play the convenient associate.
That’s not the way the French would describe their role in the world. Rather, the fact is that France, in many respects, led the United States into battle in Libya and provided much of the willpower leading to a victory over the Qaddafi regime that is shared by the Americans, British and others.
Now, the International Atomic Energy Agency has published a remarkable report detailing credible evidence of Iran’s attempt to a produce a nuclear warhead to be carried by a ballistic missile.
Coming after four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions against the mullahs since 2006, the report suggests a lengthening sweep of fairly futile countermeasures — ones that have a kind of multilateral kinship with Europe’s inability to deal head-on with its potential financial implosion.
The New York Times, in a report from Washington last week, described the White House’s reaction to the implications of the report (the I.A.E.A. calculates the Iranians now have enough fuel on hand to produce four nuclear weapons) as “strikingly muted” — or what President Barack Obama’s critics might call leading from behind at its faintest.
By contrast, the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, spoke in Paris of the necessity of responding with “sanctions on an unprecedented scale.” Their purpose, he said flatly, was “making Iran bend.”
Is that a very cautious division of labor among allies, although not a fully articulated one?
Most certainly, it is a reaffirmation of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conviction that an Iranian nuclear capability or bomb is the single greatest threat to the world’s security.
This involves France’s consistent toughness on the issue. For example, it chided Mr. Obama’s “outstretched” hand to Iran as hopeless in view of what Mr. Sarkozy now calls its “obsessional desire” for nukes. And the French jog or goad the administration when its resolve to put an end to the mullahs’ atomic fixation seems to flag.