/Macron takes gamble by meeting Iran foreign minister amid G7

Macron takes gamble by meeting Iran foreign minister amid G7

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif | GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images

Trump’s apparent acquiescence signals that at least a new dialogue might be possible.

BIARRITZ, France — Emmanuel Macron just bet the house at the G7 summit.

In a high stakes diplomatic gamble, the French president unexpectedly met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the margins of the summit of country leaders in France on Sunday — while Donald Trump was across the street.

But Trump was in on the plan. Or so French officials say.

Macron informed the U.S. president — who has threatened Iran with “obliteration” in an escalating sanctions dispute — of Zarif’s upcoming, surprise visit during a one-on-one lunch meeting on Saturday afternoon, an Elysée official and a high-level French diplomat said.

Macron has been working aggressively in recent weeks to broker a diplomatic truce that would end tensions stemming from Trump’s unilateral withdrawal last year from the Iran nuclear accord, and his reimposition of economic sanctions, which ultimately led Tehran to break some of its obligations under the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

While other G7 leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were apparently kept in the dark about Zarif’s visit, Macron broached the idea with the U.S. president in advance.

And Trump agreed.

“Macron suggested to Trump on Saturday over lunch that Zarif should come to Biarritz and Trump agreed it was a good idea,” the senior French diplomat told POLITICO.

At times, Iran seemed to control the narrative, with a foreign ministry spokesman quickly posting on Twitter after Zarif’s arrival that he would not meet with Trump or other U.S. officials.

Still, Zarif’s dramatic arrival at Biarritz town hall, at the heart of the highly secured summit zone, underscored Macron’s personal investment in brokering a deal — as well as the Europeans’ continuing commitment to the JCPOA.

And Trump’s apparent acquiescence signaled, if not an imminent breakthrough, that at least a new dialogue might be possible.

All in all, Zarif spent three hours in meetings in Biarritz, including 30 minutes with Macron, according to the Elysée official, and the rest with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Officials from the U.K. and Germany, France’s fellow European signatories to the JCPOA, were also brought in. “The German and British national security advisers joined a part of the meeting,” the Elysée official said.

Macron in recent weeks has led intense diplomatic efforts aimed, at least initially, at bringing Iran back into full compliance with the nuclear deal, potentially in exchange for some relief from the reimposed U.S. sanctions, which have included the termination of exemptions for oil exports to certain countries.

After the sessions, Zarif made clear that reaching a deal would not be easy. “Road ahead is difficult,” he wrote on Twitter. “But worth trying.”

French officials said meeting with Zarif in the international spotlight of the G7 summit gave Macron the opportunity to confer with his counterparts quickly — and in person.

“It made sense to bring Zarif to Biarritz because all the major stakeholders were in the vicinity, which allowed for fluid consultations,” according to the high-level diplomat.

Macron briefed Trump on the meeting immediately after it ended. “He met with him and they discussed the substance of the meeting,” according to the high-level diplomat.

Still, French officials were cautious in their assessment, and were careful to limit expectations.

“Discussions were positive and continue and are underway. There will be multiple other meetings and exchanges tonight and tomorrow morning,” the Elysée official said Sunday evening.

The high-level diplomat did not rule out the possibility of some kind of announcement Monday.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who oversees sanctions policy, said Sunday on television that Trump was always willing to make a deal.

“The president has said before that to the extent that Iran wants to sit down and negotiate, we have not set preconditions to those negotiations,” he said.

If Macron succeeds in clinching even modest progress, it would be a major diplomatic coup.

But steep obstacles remain. Iran is insisting on the right to resume oil exports and on an immediate end to the U.S. sanctions. Trump, meanwhile, has pursued what he calls a policy of “maximum pressure,” aimed not only at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program but also checking its interventions in various regional military conflicts. Trump has long complained that the JCPOA did not restrict Iran’s conventional ballistic missile program, nor limit its role in Syria.

Macron and other European leaders have said they share Trump’s concerns about Iran, but have insisted that the JCPOA should be respected. They struggled to preserve the agreement, even creating a special corporate vehicle aimed at circumventing the U.S. sanctions, drawing Washington’s ire.

Macron had been keen to start off the G7 summit on the right foot, and so made sure to have his first event with Trump — greeting the American president at his hotel on Saturday.

“When he arrived yesterday afternoon in Biarritz, the first thing I wanted to do was to be able to spend time with him. We had a wonderful moment together over lunch over two hours,” Macron told reporters on Sunday. “I think it’s this direct dialogue that will really allow us to move forward effectively.”

Trump has lashed out at Macron at times in recent weeks, accusing him of sending mixed messages to Iran. But the U.S. president seemed relatively content in Biarritz.

Hours after Zarif left France, Trump seemed to still be enjoying his time, tweeting “Great meetings at the G7 Biarritz, France!”

Word that Zarif’s plane had just landed at the Biarritz airport, which was closed to all flights except official summit delegations, immediately raised questions about whether the Iranian foreign minister would meet Trump or members of his administration.

At the time, Trump was in a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, and reporters asked if Zarif was coming to the summit. Trump replied curtly: “No comment.”

Other normally well-informed officials were stunned.

The British delegation learned of Zarif’s arrival at around lunchtime on Sunday, according to a U.K. official, who said it appeared that other delegations had been told at the same time.

Merkel, speaking to reporters, made clear that she did not have much advance notice.

“I felt well-informed, in a timely manner,” Merkel said. “I don’t know if that was before you spotted the plane or not.”

Please follow and like us:
Original Source