French Defense Minister Florence Parly told a security forum in Bahrain on November 23 that Paris will continue to speak with Tehran despite a string of international incidents seemingly involving Iran but also hinted at unease over what she described as "a deliberate, gradual U.S. disengagement" in the Middle East.
Speaking at the annual IISS Manama Dialogue, a major security summit that includes regional policymakers and experts, Parly questioned whether some recent incidents that many blame on Iran have been met with sufficient pushback.
“When the mining of ships went unanswered, a drone got shot [down]," Parly told attendees. "When that in turn got unanswered, major oil facilities were bombed. Where does it stop? Where are the stabilizers?"
She said the region is “accustomed to the ebb and flow of U.S. involvement," adding, "But this time it seemed more serious."
Parly pointed to tensions since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and redoubled sanctions and other pressure on Iran.
"But the trend is, I think, quite clear and thus probably irrespective of who wins the next elections," she said.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, whose country regards itself as among the staunchest of U.S. allies, countered the French assessment at the same conference.
Al-Jubeir said there was no U.S. retreat from the region and insisted Riyadh did not doubt the U.S. commitment.
"We believe the U.S. is [a] very dependable ally and has been for the past seven decades" he said.
Washington and its Middle Eastern allies blamed Iran for explosions that damaged as many as four ships outside the strategic Strait of Hormuz in May, and then accused Tehran of using mines to attack two oil tankers in June.
Iranian forces then shot down a U.S. drone later in June that they said was in Iranian airspace, saying it sent "a clear message" to Washington. U.S. officials confirmed the drone's downing but called it an "unprovoked attack" in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.
The incidents reportedly prompted Trump to approve but eventually call off at the last minute retaliatory strikes against Iranian targets.
Iran has since seized several international oil tankers in actions seemingly designed to assert Tehran's right to police traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, which is a conduit for huge amounts of the region's oil exports.
And in September, an air attack temporarily crippled state-owned Saudi Aramco oil-processing facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in nearby Yemen claimed responsibility, but Saudi and Western officials -- including from France -- have said Tehran bears at least some of the blame.
Parly said France, which along with European allies has fought to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that four years ago traded curbs on Iran's nuclear activities for international sanctions relief, remained committed to dialogue with Tehran.
Iranian officials have vowed not to return to the nuclear negotiating table until sanctions are lifted.
Parly added, “We will stand by our allies. You can count on us.