French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday criticized Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia for encouraging the Iranian anti-regime protests, saying the three countries could “lead us to war.”
“The official line pursued by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are our allies in many ways, is almost one that would lead us to war,” Macron said, according to Reuters.
Calling for dialogue with the Islamic Republic, Macron said France wanted to avoid “surreptitiously rebuilding an ‘axis of evil,’” a reference to countries singled out by former US president George W. Bush including Iran, North Korea, and Iraq.
US President Donald Trump has been supporting the Iran protesters in a series of tweets, drawing a furious response from Tehran.
Trump, who considers the Islamic Republic his enemy number one in the Middle East, on Wednesday promised unspecified support for Iranians trying to “take back” their government.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the “heroic” demonstrators protesting against the “cruel regime” in a YouTube video published Monday.
“Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets,” he said. “They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades.”
The prime minister also chided Europe for its tepid response to the demonstrations unfolding across Iran.
“Sadly, many European governments watch in silence as heroic young Iranians are beaten in the streets. That’s just not right. And I, for one, will not stay silent,” said Netanyahu.
European leaders have largely stuck to bland expressions of concern as the demonstrations have spiraled into unrest that has left at least 21 people dead.
In contrast to Israel and the US, the European Union — which has been normalizing ties with Tehran since the nuclear deal sealed in 2015 — issued a carefully worded statement mourning the loss of life and calling for “all concerned to refrain from violence.”
Berlin called for the regime to respond to the protests “through dialogue,” urging Tehran to “respect freedom of assembly and expression.”
Macron, a key defender of the historic Iranian nuclear deal in the face of Trump’s opposition, telephoned his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani calling for “restraint.”
A visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to Tehran was due in the coming days but has been put back due to the delicacy of the situation.
Britain’s reaction, meanwhile, has been limited to a call for “meaningful debate” over the protesters’ complaints, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson saying: “The UK is watching events in Iran closely.”
Protests over high living costs and other economic problems started on December 28 before turning against the regime as a whole.
But on Wednesday, as tens of thousands of regime supporters rallied, analysts said Europe was banking on the anti-government protests coming to little.
“The European position is certainly less advantageous in terms of public opinion, but it is wiser,” said Francois Nicoullaud, a former French ambassador to Iran.
“What is happening in Iran is an expression of deep suffering but without a structure or program, its chances of success are very limited,” he added.
“In a serious clash with the regime, it would be crushed.”