France shows ambitions in Syria, courts Trump before Iran deal cancellation

French naval and air-to-ground strikes with SCALP missiles during the joint attack with the UK and the US on Syrian chemical weapons depots on 14 April, signal Paris’ role as the leading EU army. Macron is also likely trying to boost his credibility ahead of his trip to Washington to convince Donald Trump to not scrape the Iran nuclear deal in May.

The French Aquitaine-class frigate Languedoc fired three long-range naval cruise missiles SCALP to test this strategic capability only possessed by the UK and the US in the area until now. The naval strike was accompanied with attacks led by Rafale and Mirage 2000 jets. UK’s new HMS Duncan, without the cruise missile or any strike capacity, was tasked with air defence in the area. France’s historical ambitions in the MENA region suffered from lack of European support, a trend the Macron administration is working to change with European defence cooperation. Paris took advantage from of a special window of opportunity amid increased EU foreign policy unity against Russia, in support for improved transatlantic relations and new large chemical attack in Syria. Most importantly, also signalled Trump that France wants to play a bigger role in the Middle East. On separate trips, Macron and Merkle will try to convince the US president not to withdraw from the hallmark Iran nuclear deal over their ballistic missile program. The European allies already increased pressure on Teheran over the issues. A US withdrawal, even more, probabilistic with hawkish John Bolton as the national security adviser, would damage Transatlantic relations and further MENA policy.

About author: Petr Boháček

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