In a telephone call with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron earlier today, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani defended the country’s military involvement in regional conflicts and emphasized that Tehran will continue its controversial ballistic missile program despite increasing pressure from Washington and its allies, according to the account of the conversation provided by the Iranian media. “Our presence in Iraq and Syria has been based upon official requests by the governments of the two countries and for the fight against terrorism. Today, it is evident to everyone that Iran’s efforts and assistance resulted in the destruction of Takfiri ISIS terrorism in the region,” Rouhani told Macron, according to Fars News Agency. The two presidents also discussed the security and political situations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. He also urged the French president not to support the Trump administration’s policies vis-à-vis the Middle East.
The two leaders also discussed the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the nuclear deal Iran signed with world leaders in 2015. “As long as we feel that we benefit from JCPOA, we will remain committed to it,” Rouhani emphasized. Rouhani further stressed that Iran will continue its missile program and claimed it does not violate UN resolutions or JCPOA. “Our weapons are for our country’s defense, and we will never doubt about access to what we should have for our country’s defense.” He also defended the role of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in regional conflicts.
In addition, Rouhani accused the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, an Iranian opposition group with offices in Paris, of orchestrating the current popular antigovernment protests across Iran and urged the French government to take action against the group.
Comment: The readout of the two leaders’ conversation provided by the French government is markedly different from the one published in the Iranian media. Macron’s office issued a statement saying the French leader urged his Iranian counterpart to show restraint in dealing with anti-government protesters across Iran. More than a dozen protesters have reportedly been killed during the last days of protests and regime authorities have arrested several hundreds of protesters. The statement added that Macron had voiced concern to Rouhani over the casualties and stressed that the people’s rights to protest should be respected. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s trip to Tehran initially slated for this week has also been postponed.
Relations between Tehran and Paris have improved significantly since the signing of the nuclear agreement in 2015. But while the French government supports the deal and wants it to be fully implemented, it shares Washington’s concern about Tehran’s ballistic missile program and malign activities in the region. Macron has proposed to supplement the Iran deal with new provisions to address those concerns, but as Rouhani’s remarks indicate, Tehran is unwilling to negotiate over its missile program or regional activities.
Rouhani’s defense of the IRGC and its role in regional conflicts also comes at a time that thousands of Iranians protesting against the government are blasting the IRGC’s costly involvement in regional wars at the expense of domestic priorities.