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Macron Seeks to Strengthen France’s 'Strategic' Role in The Middle East

Macron Seeks to Strengthen France’s 'Strategic' Role in The Middle East

Thursday, 12 August, 2021 - 10:45
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a Defense Council at Fort de Brégançon with Health Minister Olivier Veran, Admiral Jean-Philippe Rolland, and French Minister Delegate in charge of Small and Medium-Sized Entreprises Alain Griset, in Bormes-les-Mimosas, France August 11, 2021. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/Pool

When French President Emmanuel Macron moved early to the Fort de Brégançon - the summer residence of French presidents overlooking the Mediterranean - the Elysée circles described his break as “hardworking”, also at the international level.

The Aug. 4 conference, which Macron organized and sponsored in partnership with the United Nations to provide humanitarian aid to Lebanon, demonstrated his continued efforts to extend a helping hand to the crisis-hit country and his insistence on proving the presence of Paris in the Mediterranean land.

It is true that the French president has affirmed, since the Beirut port explosion, his special interest in Lebanon, which he visited twice, and would have visited a third time had it not been for his infection with the Covid-19 at the end of 2020. But Macron has other interests in the region, most notably his participation in the Iraqi Neighborhood Conference in Baghdad, which is expected to be held on Aug. 28. He is also seeking to revive his country’s role in the Iranian nuclear issue.

It should be noted that Macron visited Baghdad in September and received at the Elysée Palace Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

Paris maintains good old relations with the Kurdistan region. Hence, Macron’s participation in a conference, albeit under a regional name (the Iraq Neighborhood Conference), seems normal to a large extent.

The statement issued by the Elysée Palace after the phone call that took place between Macron and Al-Kadhimi was remarkable, where the latter pointed to the preparations for the conference, which is “organized by Iraq in cooperation and coordination with France.” This means that Macron will not be a “normal” participant, but will assume a greater role.

A group of Iraqi ministers had toured many capitals to send the invitations for the conference, including Riyadh, Ankara, Tehran, Cairo and Amman. While Syria’s presence is excluded and the European and American participations are still unknown, Macron’s attendance would push towards two main outcomes: The first is to motivate some capitals to raise their level of representation, and the second is to make Macron “the mediator”, considering that Western officials such as US President Joe Biden or British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would refuse to participate in a conference that might be attended by the new Iranian president, Ibrahim Raisi.

The French president was the first Western chief to communicate directly with Raisi. This means that Paris is willing to revitalize its position over Iran's nuclear activity, seeking once again to play the role of mediator between Tehran and Washington in an attempt to revive the stagnant Vienna negotiations.

Through his strong and active participation in the conference, Macron will demonstrate his country’s presence and strategic role in this region. To this day, the French military presence in Iraq continues in two areas: training on the one hand, and chasing ISIS remnants on the other.

Paris has always emphasized its adherence to the security and stability of the Gulf region. Macron and his Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, have repeatedly denounced Iran’s “destabilizing” regional policy, but Paris wants to maintain dialogue with Tehran, as well as reviving the nuclear agreement, which it sees as the most effective way to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

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