STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
How does a U.S. ally view the confrontation with Iran? The United States has imposed what it calls maximum pressure on Iran. The U.S. is now suggesting that Iran was behind an attack on its neighbor, Saudi Arabia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked yesterday about a U.S. response.
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MIKE POMPEO: There were no Americans killed in this attack. But anytime you have an act of war of this nature, there's always risk that that could happen.
INSKEEP: America's European allies have their own views. France is still supporting a nuclear deal with Iran after the U.S. withdrew. France is also watching the accusations about that attack on a Saudi oil facility. Phillippe Etienne is France's ambassador to the United States. He is in our studios.
Ambassador, welcome to the program.
PHILIPPE ETIENNE: Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: And welcome to the United States. We'll note that you've come in just the last few months. Saudi's presented bits of weapons and said that they show that this attack on an oil facility was - I believe the phrase is - sponsored by Iran. What do your experts say about this?
ETIENNE: Well, first, we have condemned very strongly this attack last Saturday. It is a very - it's something very serious. Our president talked with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia two days ago, and they decided we would send also our own experts. So we have experts taking part to this international...
INSKEEP: And this is vital in France.
INSKEEP: You want an independent view of this, I guess.
ETIENNE: We want - everybody wants, I feel, a global investigation for that our international community will have a common result, a common assessment. And we are doing that. It was decided during this conversation, and we are sending our experts. There will be other experts coming from the U.N. and there will be this - and there is now this investigation going on.
INSKEEP: As you know very well, Ambassador, there is a group in Yemen - the Houthis - who claim responsibility. Is that credible at all?
ETIENNE: Well, it is one of the elements. There are other indications, which are now being presented. And this is the reason why we absolutely need this investigation. And it was agreed with Saudi Arabia. We have expressed not only a condemnation, a strong condemnation as this is a very serious attack. We also express our solidarity with Saudi Arabia and then commitment to its security and to stability in the region. And now we have decided to take part of this investigation.
INSKEEP: How dangerous is the situation, Ambassador?
ETIENNE: Well, the situation is really serious, of course. It's an escalation. And it explains also why it is so important to act. And it is also the reason why in Biarritz that the recent G-7 leader in France - this one of the most important topic, and the leaders came to two unanimous conclusions. First, that to ensure, we must ensure that Iran never will acquire a nuclear bomb. And secondly, we must absolutely foster stability and security in the region.
INSKEEP: I'm glad that you mentioned this G-7 Summit because it was some time ago. It was well before this attack on Saudi Arabia. It reminds us that this confrontation has been building for some time. We could go back to the moment last year when the United States withdrew from a nuclear deal with Iran and began this maximum pressure campaign. France stayed in the deal. How successful do you think you've been in keeping that deal afloat? You're smiling as I ask that question.
ETIENNE: Well, yes, it's a very good question, indeed. We recognize it is not easy, and we see the situation now. But, indeed, France did not stay alone in the deal. We stayed with the United Kingdom, with Germany and the EU but also with Russia and China.
ETIENNE: And, of course, with Iran, until Iran started last June to take progressively steps away from implementing this deal. We had this disagreement with the U.S., indeed, but we have a common goal - and even two common goals. I recall those goals, which were stressed underline in Biarritz (ph).
INSKEEP: You still want to make sure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon. You just disagree about how to do that.
ETIENNE: And we want - we want, and we see recently how important it is. We want really to secure stability in this very, very, very complicated region where there is not on the Iran and the nuclear deal which was signed in 2015. There is also Syria and Yemen and a lot of other issues. So what we aimed at and what we should continue to aim at is to open at one point a new dialogue and to create the conditions for that. And this new dialogue should be not only on the nuclear aspect but also on regional security and including ballistic politics.
INSKEEP: Is France succeeding in its efforts to continue trading with Iran even as U.S. sanctions are designed to cut off nearly all that trade?
ETIENNE: Well, again, it's not only France. It's the other...
INSKEEP: Right. Of course.
ETIENNE: ...The other part of the world.
INSKEEP: All the other parties to the deal, yes.
ETIENNE: Exactly. So it is one of the things which must be looked at if - and it is very difficult. And we tried. And we continue, of course, to...
INSKEEP: You set up a special financing mechanism for food and medicine.
ETIENNE: It's very difficult, but we have to see in a new step which could be, which could lead to opening this new dialogue how this economic part would look like. For the time being, we have with the other Europeans indeed, as you said, tried to establish this mechanism to have the possibility to continue trade in the non-sanctioned sectors.
INSKEEP: Food and medicine.
ETIENNE: Food and medicine, exactly.
INSKEEP: Just very briefly, Ambassador, has Iran undermined its own case for staying in the deal because it has been blamed for a number of acts of violence regardless of who attacked Saudi Arabia?
ETIENNE: Well, first, Iran one year after the American decision started itself to take this, to take steps in which meant that it started not to implement the deal. And we have always been very clear. It is really essential that Iran turns back, goes back to the full compliance with the deal. But on top of that, we must also open a dialogue on a broader set of issues which is first the control of nuclear activities after 2025, after the JCPOA or the nuclear deal and also ballistic and regional issues.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.
ETIENNE: Thanks for having me. Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: Philippe Etienne is France's ambassador to the United States here in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.