French was for centuries the language of diplomacy in part because its orotund phrases give a flowery gloss to mundane matters. "Exposition Canine," for example, is French for Dog Show.

But there was nothing rosy about the interview French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gave The Wall Street Journal recently on the dubious prospects of a successful negotiation to end Iran's ability to produce nuclear weapons.

He was speaking about ongoing talks with Iran that President Barack Obama launched this year, giving the Iranian government temporary relief from some economic sanctions and the right to continue enriching uranium.

The negotiations, said Mr. Fabius, need to focus on preventing Iran from acquiring a "breakout capacity," meaning an ability to acquire sufficient supplies of highly enriched uranium and plutonium to manufacture nuclear weapons.

"It is unclear if the Iranians will accept to definitively abandon any capacity of getting a weapon or only agree to interrupt the nuclear program," Mr. Fabius told the Journal.

Signals from Iran suggest that it will indeed hold firm to its refusal to give up uranium enrichment. Shortly after the current negotiations were announced, Iran President Hassan Rouhani told an Iranian news service, "Our enrichment will never stop. This is our red line."

More recently, Iran Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif warned that if Iran doesn't get its way in the negotiations, it can resume within 24 hours its suspended enrichment of uranium to 20 percent - an intermediate step on the ladder to a nuclear weapon.

Such remarks cast a somber light on the French diplomat's comment.

The Journal reports that even President Obama thinks it is a "50-50 proposition" whether Iran will agree to give up its path to a nuclear weapon, but adds that the administration remains hopeful for a deal.

If Iran is allowed to enrich uranium, even under international inspection, and to retain its huge industrial enrichment capacity, it will always be only a step from breakout.

That is what worries the French.

It should also worry Americans - and our national government.