President Donald Trump is meeting his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Paris. The two men have already met twice before: shaking hands in Brussels and posing side by side in Hamburg for a group photo. Their next meeting, on the occasion of Bastille Day, gives them the opportunity to hammer out the details of their bilateral cooperation, and to come to a consensus on the future of Western policy with regard to the Middle East.
Trump and Macron share some common ground on which they can build a joint approach. They have been compared to each other because of their shared past in business, and although they are each focused on economic development and other improvements in their own countries, neither of them is willing to close their eyes to the numerous urgent problems around the world. Following their initial meeting in Brussels, Macron committed the French air force to participate in American airstrikes in Syria, should the Assad regime carry out further attacks with chemical weapons.
Last month, the White House warned Bashar Assad against such attacks, citing information that suggested the Syrian army seemed to be preparing for another chemical bombardment from the same airbase that was used to launch the previous attack in April, in which sarin gas was used.
Macron is also acting according to France’s best interests. By promising to respond to such crimes, he stays faithful to France’s identity as a great power and defender of the rights and dignity of humankind throughout the world. However, the situation in Syria and the surrounding region demands more than a military response to flagrant human rights violations. A global strategy is needed to eradicate the causes of these abuses. Here is how Macron and Trump will be able to build on their shared interests in Paris on Friday.
Crimes by the Bashar Assad regime would have been stopped years ago if the regime hadn’t had the support of Iran, and later Russia. In addition, Tehran has contributed substantially to the escalation of these crimes, and added to the list of atrocities by aiding Shiite terrorist groups in their role as pro-Assad military forces. Many of these groups have committed human rights violations against Sunni communities. And contrary to the Islamic State, their militia looks as if it will remain in Syria for the long term.
If Macron wants France to have the kind of influence which it deserves as a great world power, he has to be ready to confront the Islamic Republic of Iran head-on. And he has to position France in such a way as to encourage Europe to do the same. This doesn’t mean that Western powers should risk a new war in the Middle East, and this is certainly not what Trump is advocating. He has, however, increased the sanctions against the Iranian regime due to its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism. This week’s meeting is a significant opportunity for the two presidents to push for new commitments in terms of sanctions and diplomatic pressure, for example, by using coercive diplomacy. Macron has a unique responsibility in this area, because France is one of the main European nations that holds conversations with Tehran.
We must face Iran by exposing its vulnerability, and by evicting it from areas of foreign influence. Economic sanctions against the Islamic republic should also serve another purpose, namely the encouragement of the opposition forces within the country which could facilitate the transfer of power from the hands of the clergy to the hands of democratic representatives elected by the Iranian people.
It should be noted that the meeting between Trump and Macron is taking place two weeks after an event in Paris based around the National Council of Resistance of Iran, in which approximately 100,000 Iranian expatriates participated. We went to the demonstration to interview some of those involved and while we were there, we heard Maryam Radjavi, the president of the NCRI, explain that the Iranian regime is a lot more vulnerable than is generally known because of the unrestrained expansion of its stranglehold across the wider Middle East, as well as hundreds of barely reported demonstrations which take place every day across the country. The need to confront Tehran’s damaging behavior, both within Iran and abroad, has been reiterated and emphasized by numerous figures from the U.S., Europe and the Middle East.
Under these conditions, the sanctions applied by the international community against the Islamic republic could be the key element in creating the conditions that will enable regime change in Iran and subsequent improvement for the prospects in Syria and the rest of the region. If the talks between the two heads of state go well, Trump and Macron will be the first to get credit for setting events in motion which will change the course of history and bring about an era of universal justice.