By Associated Press
Canadian Press via Associated Press
BIARRITZ, France — A top Iranian official paid an unannounced visit Sunday to the G-7 summit and headed straight toward the heart of the city where leaders of the world’s major democracies have been debating how to handle the country’s nuclear ambitions.
France’s surprise invitation of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was a high-stakes gamble for French President Emmanuel Macron, who is the host of the Group of Seven gathering in Biarritz.
Zarif spent about five hours in Biarritz after his plane touched down at the airport, which has been closed since Friday to all flights unrelated to the official G-7 delegations.
A senior French official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, said Macron personally informed U.S. President Donald Trump about the invitation to Zarif.
The official noted that Macron and Trump met for two hours Saturday and discussed Iran at length, as well as at the informal group dinner Saturday night.
Another French official said that France “is working in full transparency with the U.S. and in full transparency with European partners.” The Iranian met with Macron as well as diplomats from France, Germany and Britain at the Biarritz city hall, the official said.
Zarif, who is under U.S. sanctions, had been scheduled to go to Asia as part of a tour to seek support for Iran amid the American campaign against it since Trump withdrew the U.S. from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Trump had not “set preconditions” on negotiations with Iran.
Zarif arrived as fissures emerged among G-7 leaders over how to deal with Iran.
Macron said the leaders agreed during a dinner the night before that the French president could serve as a G-7 messenger to Iran. Trump denied agreeing to anything, and Macron was forced to play down his role and acknowledge Trump’s status as “the president of the world’s number one power.”
The French official also said that based on Saturday night’s dinner, France considers it important to check in with Zarif to continue to bring positions closer together and ease tensions. The official said the French are not “mediators” but think they can contribute to de-escalation.
Macron said he has no formal mandate to speak for the G-7 leaders in delivering a message to Iran, but that he would be able to address the issue in the context of what they agreed to during the dinner.
For several months, Macron has taken a lead role in trying to save the 2015 nuclear accord, which has been unraveling since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement. His office said the G-7 leaders agreed he should serve as a go-between with Iran.
“I haven’t discussed that,” Trump said Sunday morning. He described the dinner as “very, very good” and blamed the media for anything that implied otherwise.
But it seemed from other accounts that the dinner had been tense, with a clear divide between him and the rest of the G-7.