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Macron Calls On Iran To Resume Talks, Blinken Condemns Tanker Attack

With Iran in transition to a new administration under president Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi), French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call with Raisi called on Tehran Monday to quickly resume Vienna nuclear talks. In New York Antony Blinken, the United States Secretary of State, told the United Nations Security Council that Washington was confident Tehran had carried out the July 29 attack on the Israeli-managed Mercer Street tanker in the Gulf of Oman.

Raisi’s phone call with Macron was apparently his first as president with a western leader. IRNA, the official Iranian news agency, reported that Raisi had stressed that “in any negotiation, the rights of the Iranian nation should be secured and guaranteed.”

With Raisi taking office last week, there has been speculation over his approach to international issues. Talks in Vienna have been wrestling since April with reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) which President Donald Trump left in 2018 before imposing draconian sanctions. Until Raisi makes a nomination and it is approved by the Iranian parliament, Mohammad Javad Zarif remains Iran’s foreign minister, and it is also unclear whether Abbas Araghchi, a deputy foreign minister, will continue to lead Iran’s team in Vienna.

Persian Gulf Tensions

Tensions in the Persian Gulf, which flared with the drone attack on the Mercer Street in which two crew members died, go back several months in which Iran and Israel have traded accusations over attacks on one another’s shipping. Israel, which has opposed the JCPOA, is also thought to be behind November’s killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and April’s attack on the Natanz uranium enrichment site.

Speaking at UN security council meeting Monday on maritime security, Blinken said that based on “available information,” the US was confident Iran was responsible for the Mercer Street attack, which he called an unjustified attack on freedom of navigation and international commerce.

Speaking in Tehran Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accused Israel of spreading “terror” at sea and criticized a statement from British foreign secretary Dominic Raab saying the Mercer Street incident had been “deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law by Iran.” Khatibzadeh said Iran shared “concern about the security of commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf."

Stability in Lebanon

In his conversation with Macron, Raisi said Iran was “very serious about providing security and preserving deterrence in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman,” IRNA reported. Raisi also reportedly thanked the French president for offering support to Lebanon in its financial and social crisis. Raisi said Iran welcomed any efforts to advance “the stability, security and improvement of the economic situation of the Lebanese people.”

Macron has taken a particular interest in Lebanon, a former colony, especially since the August 2020 port explosion. The country’s political crisis, alongside the collapse of the post-war economic order, is enmeshed with regional rivalries, with Saudi Arabia supporting Sunni groups and Iran allied to Shia groups Hezbollah and Amal. But Hezbollah, through maintaining a large military force with Iran’s support, has gradually dominated politics in the country, calling the shots on forming any government.

France is also − alongside China, Germany, Iran Russia, and the United Kingdom − a signatory of the JCPOA. The Vienna talks, with the US taking part indirectly, have struggled to reconcile Iranian and US demands over the lifting of US sanctions and how Iran might bring its nuclear program, expanded since 2019, back within JCPOA limits. The looming end of the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, an architect of the JCPOA but who was ineligible to stand for a third successive term, also cast a shadow over the negotiations.

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