Macron Invites Iran's Zarif to G-7 Sidelines, Risks U.S. Outrage

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25 aug. 2019, 16.44

(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron has thrown his G-7 guests a mid-summit curveball -- inviting Iran’s foreign minister for a surprise visit in a move that risks infuriating Donald Trump’s administration.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif flew to Biarritz, the French seaside resort town that’s the site of the summit, on Sunday as leaders met nearby. The French government insisted he wasn’t in the town to join the G-7, but instead to meet nearby with the French foreign minister as part of a bid by Macron to deescalate the crisis.

Still, the arrival came as a stunning development, and several delegations appear to have been caught off-guard -- the Americans and Canadians declined to say if they had advance notice, while the Italians found out from French news wire AFP. Iran already has dominated the discussions at the G-7, with Macron and Trump sparring over Macron’s outreach to the Islamic Republic.

Zarif was in Paris only last week, meeting with Macron about the future of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. Zarif described the talks as “constructive and good”, the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency reported.

Zarif is a lightning rod for the Trump administration, which sanctioned him personally just recently and heavily restricted his movements during a recent visit to New York. Macron had wanted to shake up the summit, and he has already angered the American side, which accused him of trying to manipulate the agenda to embarrass Trump.

The French president is trying to show that he’s achieved something on the geopolitical issues he’s raised, and he has led the European effort to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, after Trump pulled out in 2018. Macron told TF1 television Sunday that leaders agreed they need to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons and destabilizing the region -- though that was the state of play before talks began.

Macron also touted an agreement to send a joint message from the G-7 to Iran as one of his victories from a dinner among the leaders. "We’ve enacted a common communication, which in my view has a lot of value,” he said this morning in a French television interview.

But Trump immediately pushed back on the idea that Macron was speaking for the whole G-7, and therefore Trump as well. “We’ll do our own outreach,” he said. “But I can’t stop people from talking.”

One person familiar with the situation says Trump does not agree that Macron can convey a message from the G-7 to Iran since the leaders didn’t all settle on what the message should be.

Trump has pursued a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, using sanctions to cut off their sales of oil in a way that’s hurting that nation’s economy. White House officials say the G-7 countries agreed Trump’s pressure campaign on Iran is having an impact, and that it should continue.

--With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs.

To contact the reporters on this story: Helene Fouquet in Biarritz, France at hfouquet1@bloomberg.net;Josh Wingrove in Biarritz, France at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Gordon at cgordon39@bloomberg.net

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