UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — In a surprise move, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Biarritz on Sunday in southwest France, where a Group of Seven summit is taking place, while French President Emmanuel Macron is stepping up efforts to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington despite no plans. For an Iranian-American meeting.
European leaders have been struggling to prevent a possible confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions on the Iranian economy.
But in a dramatic diplomatic move at the G7 summit, Zarif arrived in Biarritz and postponed a planned trip to Asia.
If any progress is made on the Iranian crisis, it would be a big step for Macron, although it is not without risks.
“Zarif came to Paris on Friday with Iranian proposals that need to be clearly revised,” a French presidential official said.
“Yesterday there was a substantive discussion among the G7 leaders and it is now important to brief Zarif in order to continue bridging the gap … on the conditions that could lead to an escalation of tension and provide room for negotiations,” he said.
Zarif was in talks with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the official said.
It was unclear whether Trump had been informed in advance of Zarif’s visit, although Macron had lunch with the US president on Saturday and the two leaders discussed the Iranian issue frequently in the evening.
Trump declined to comment when asked if he knew Zarif was in Biarritz. US authorities imposed sanctions on Zarif earlier this month.
But a White House official said France had not informed Trump in advance.
“Zarif will convey Iran’s leadership’s response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to maintain the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Zarif would return to Tehran on Sunday before heading to China.
Trump seemed to ignore French mediation efforts with Iran, saying that while he was happy with Macron’s efforts to ease tensions with Tehran, he would continue his own initiatives.
– Bold move –
Macron took the lead in Europe to try to salvage Iran’s nuclear deal and avert a deeper crisis in the Middle East, and met Zarif in Paris on Friday.
They discussed proposals to contain the crisis, including easing some US sanctions or giving Iran an economic compensation mechanism for oil revenues lost by US sanctions.
Trump has adopted a policy of putting maximum pressure on Iran to force it into new negotiations, including its ballistic missile program and activities in the region.
While its European allies also want new talks, they believe the nuclear deal should be supported, since it restricts Iran’s nuclear program.
Asked about Macron’s mediation efforts, Trump said earlier: “We will make contacts, but you know, I can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can.”
Tehran has responded to tougher US sanctions and what it says are the failure of European signatories to compensate for oil revenue losses, with a series of measures that included curtailing its obligations with regard to restrictions on nuclear activity under the agreement.
The United States has not indicated its intention to ease any sanctions and the type of compensation mechanism Macron has referred to is unclear. A proposal on a commercial channel for the exchange of humanitarian aid and food with Iran has yet to be implemented.
Macron said he expected Iran to fully abide by the nuclear deal in response to any concessions and should engage in new negotiations, including its ballistic missile program and activities in the region.
“It is unprecedented and given the context it is very bold,” a French diplomatic source said.
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