U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision not to be drawn into military conflict with Iran was attacked by France’s defense minister on Saturday, with Florence Parly lamenting the absence of an American military response in the oil-rich region.
Parly added France also deplored Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that was brokered by Barack Obama. She said that move led to the re-imposition of crushing sanctions against Iran, as well as Tehran recently breaking the deal’s enrichment, stockpile and centrifuge limits.
France would continue to talk to Iran, she said in her speech before the annual Manama Dialogue in Bahrain, striking a rare muscular military tone for Paris, which maintains a naval base in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
However Parly did not indicate an immediate injection of French assets into the region to fill the vacuum she claims has been left by the U.S.
Rather, she said France would consider a European-organized maritime security force in the region that would cooperate with but be separate from an American-organized deployment.
She gave no timeline for this as yet to be formed European naval expeditionary force.
“We’ve seen deliberate, gradual U.S. disengagement,” Parly told the summit, organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It had been on the cards for a while but it became clear when fighter jets remained on the tarmac in 2013 after the Syrian chemical attacks or later, after the downing of a U.S. UAV and the bombing of Saudi oil facilities.”
“With the cornerstone moving, the edifice has started shaking,” she said.
Since the summer, there have been a series of attacks in the region, starting first with the suspected mining of oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. blames Iran for the attacks, something Tehran denies. Iran did shoot down a U.S. military surveillance drone and seize oil tankers.
A September drone-and-cruise-missile attack on Saudi oil fields halved the kingdom’s crude oil production, shocking energy markets. The U.S. blames that attack on Iran as well, something Iran denies. Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed the attack, but analysts say the weapons used likely would not have the range to reach the sites from rebel-held territory and appeared to come in from the north of the Persian Gulf, not from the south toward Yemen.
“When the mining of ships went unanswered, a drone got shot (down). When that in turn went unanswered, major oil facilities were bombed,” Parly said. “This is dangerous, even for those who think they gain. Because bold is never far from daring and daring never far from reckless.”
Parly spoke just days after the U.S. confirmed the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group transited the Strait of Hormuz, after it was ordered by the White House to rapidly deploy to the Mideast to meet heightened threats from Iran.
The U.S. Navy says the Lincoln entered the strait as it steamed towards the Persian Gulf. The carrier left Norfolk, VA, in April and was diverted to the Middle East in May, but it had remained in the Arabian Sea, avoiding passage through the contested waters that border Iran.
There is no record of a fighting French naval force currently at sea anywhere in the region.
AP contributed to this report