Obama Threatens Sanctions on France Over Iran Trade

Vows to Come Down on Companies ‘Like a Ton of Bricks’

Meeting with French President Francois Hollande today, President Obama vowed to cement the “forever friendship” between France and the United States. Then came the threats.

Last_Year_President_Obama_Reportedly-92cca9da9766cdb4b5c64d5d5f629ad5The threats to France centered around similar ones from Secretary of State John Kerry recently, that French businessmen have recently been making contacts in Iran in anticipation of the easing of sanctions.

Though easing sanctions were part of the P5+1 interim deal with Iran, and even more could be expected with a final Iran deal, US officials have been keen to downplay any improvement in ties with Iran, and have been warning companies against trying to make deals with Iranian companies.

President Hollande insisted that the companies are free to make contacts and hadn’t actually violated any sanctions, but President Obama’s pointed threats made it clear he disputes that.

Obama said any companies or nations having contact with Iran did so “at their own peril” and vowed to “come down like a ton of bricks” on them for doing so.

by Jason Ditz

FM: France to Keep Troops in Mali ‘Permanently’

From a Few Weeks to Forever, France’s Timeline Changes

In January, French officials promised to turn Mali into a “terror-free” and flourishing democracy, and bragged that they figured the war would take “only a few weeks.” As the war escalated, they quickly changed it to a promise to have much of the force withdrawn by year’s end.

malimapToday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius revealed France’s new timetable for Mali – forever. Fabius says that the new plan is to cut some of the occupation forces but to keep at least 1,000 combat troops deployed “permanently” in Mali.

The plan centers on the assumption of having a UN mission of 11,000-plus troops fighting what seems to now be an open-ended war, and France says their own deployment will center on supporting them as well as “fighting terror.”

France officials say they believe they will have the plan for a permanent deployment, along with the UN’s backing for its own large, poorly trained force, within the next two or three weeks. Getting permanent war approved, at least, seems to be on a firm schedule.

by Jason Ditz

Hinting at Pullback, Is France Rethinking Mali War?

Officials Back Off Pledges to Destroy All Rebels in Mali

Only eight days ago French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was promising to continue the French invasion of Mali at all costs under all resistance was wiped out, terming his goal a “total reconquest” of Mali.

maliToday, French President Francois Hollande suggested that the French role in the war as the lead invasion forces are virtually over, saying it was time the “Africans can take over.

Officially, French officials are treating this as victory, with Le Drian saying that the military’s goal of seizing control of population centers in the north has been met, even though troops have gone no further north than Timbuktu and nearly 2/3 of the nation remains rebel-held.

In practice this change comes as France is facing criticism for its civilian killings and as officials have conceded the fight is tougher than anticipated. This suggests that France is rethinking a war they figured would be a sweeping victory in a matter of weeks and is backing away from the pledge to turn Mali into a terror-free democracy as a practical matter.

By Jason Ditz

Report: 13 French Soldiers Captured in Syria

French Defense Ministry: No Comment

An as-yet-unconfirmed report has emerged today claiming that 13 French soldiers have been captured in the Syrian city of Homs. If confirmed this would be the first conclusive proof of direct Western intervention in Syria’s civil war.

Nicolas Sarkozy

The report comes from the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star. It says there are discussions between the Syrian and French governments already regarding what to do with the captured “officers.”

The French Foreign Ministry was quick to deny the reports, saying there were no ground troops in Syria to begin with. The French Defense Ministry stopped well short of denial, however, saying it would “neither confirm nor deny” the claim.

Speculation is that the troops could have been involved in the rescue of Western journalists from Homs, though one of the journalists adamantly denied having seen any French troops during their time in the city, saying “we owe our escape” to the rebel army.

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