French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian paid a one-day visit to Tehran on Monday to discuss Iran’s controversial missile program and regional activities. Iranian leaders told the top French diplomat that European countries should put pressure on the Trump administration to keep and implement that Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers in July 2015. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told his French counterpart that Europe can play “a more constructive role” in preserving the JCPOA, criticizing European powers’ latest cooperation with Washington over Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional actions. Zarif said Tehran would be willing to work with Europe to resolve regional conflicts, but emphasized that any cooperation should not be to “please” the Americans. Zarif also stressed that Iran will not halt its missile activities – saying that the missile issue is not part of the JCPOA or the subsequent UNSC Resolution 2231 that endorsed it.

Separately, the French foreign minister also met with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. Shamkhani, a rear admiral who appeared in military uniform in the meeting, also cautioned Europe against backing the Trump administration’s hardline policy on Iran. “Europe’s policy of giving concessions to America to keep this country part of the JCPOA is inappropriate and is tantamount to acting passively and surrendering to Trump’s psychological games,” the Iranian official said. He also urged the French diplomat to promote banking relations between the two countries and asked Paris to restrict the freedom of action of the Mujahedin Khalq, an opposition Iranian group with offices in France. Shamkhani also defended Iran’s military involvement in the region.

Earlier in the day, Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Froces, warned both Europe and the Rouhani government – saying that no one has the right to hold talks with foreigners about the country’s missile power. “In today’s situation, in which hegemonic regimes are continuously threatening, (trying to intimidate) the Islamic Republic of Iran, or committing war crimes in the region, the (Iranian) Armed Forces’ duty is to enhance the defense capabilities in all fields, including missile systems,” he underlined.

Comment: France, Germany and Britain – the three signatories of the JCPOA – oppose any attempts by the Trump administration to cancel or undermine the nuclear accord. However, the European powers share Washington’s concern about Iran’s growing missile power and destabilizing role in the region. 

Since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, he has ratcheted up pressure on Iran and threatened to terminate the Iran nuclear deal unless Congress and Europe take measures to fix the agreement’s loopholes. The Trump administration has particularly asked Europe to help curb Iran’s ballistic missile program and push back against Iran’s growing influence in the region. 

Since European powers want to keep and implement the nuclear accord, the Rouhani government has been trying to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States. Tehran hopes that European countries prevent Washington from canceling the nuclear deal and also continue to encourage investment in Iran to shore up the country’s sluggish economy and minimize the impact of unilateral US sanctions. 

But the latest statements by European leaders appear to have worried Tehran. 

Just ahead of his trip to Tehran, the French foreign minister said Iran’s missile program “worries us enormously” and rejected Tehran’s notion that its missile program is only for defensive purposes.  

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also recently chastised Iran for contributing to instability in the Middle East. “I call on Iran to cease activity which risks escalating the conflict and to support a political solution to the conflict in Yemen,” he said in a statement.