Surprise as Iran official shows up to G7

Iran's Foreign Minister flew into the French resort hosting a G7 summit on Sunday, an unexpected twist to a meeting already troubled by differences between US President Donald Trump and Western allies over a raft of issues, including Iran.

A White House official said France's invitation to Mohammad Javad Zarif for talks on the sidelines of the meeting in the Basque beachside town of Biarritz was "a surprise", and there were no immediate plans for US officials to meet him.

Zarif went straight into talks with his French counterpart to assess what conditions could lead to a de-escalation of tension between Tehran and Washington, a French official said.

European leaders have struggled to calm a deepening confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled his country out of Iran's internationally brokered 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.

Earlier on Sunday at the summit, Trump appeared to brush aside French efforts to mediate with Iran, saying that while he was happy for Paris to reach out to Tehran to defuse tensions he would carry on with his own initiatives.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has taken the lead in trying to defuse tensions, fearing a collapse of the nuclear deal could set the Middle East ablaze, met Zarif on Friday. The aim was to discuss plans to ease the crisis, including reducing some US sanctions or providing Iran with an economic compensation mechanism.

Iran wants to export a minimum of 700,000 barrels per day of its oil and ideally up to 1.5 million bpd if the West wants to negotiate with Tehran to save the 2015 deal, two Iranian officials and one diplomat told Reuters on Sunday.

Mohammad Javad Zarif
Mohammad Javad Zarif. Photo credit: Getty

Trump insisted on Sunday that he was getting along well with other leaders of a group that also includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

But rifts emerged on issues from his quickening trade war with China to the nuclear ambitions of both Iran and North Korea, and the question of whether Russia's President Vladmir Putin should be readmitted to the group.

Russia was excluded from what used to be the G8 in 2014 after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea and then backed an anti-Kiev rebellion in the industrial region of Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

A European official who declined to be named said Russia was the thorniest issue discussed at a dinner on Saturday.

"[he conversation] became a bit tense over this idea of the G7 being a club of liberal democracies... that point was clearly not shared by the US President," the official said.

Trump's argument was that on a number of issues, like Iran and Syria, it made more sense to have Putin involved in the talks given that it is a key player there.

New British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday congratulated Macron for hosting a difficult dinner encounter.

"You're doing well," Johnson said on the sidelines of the summit. "You did very well last night, my God, that was a difficult one, you did really, you did really well."

The G7 gathering is taking place against a backdrop of worries that a global economic downturn could be exacerbated by the escalating tariff war between Washington and Beijing.

Britain's Johnson voiced concern on Saturday about creeping protectionism and said those who support tariffs "are at risk of incurring the blame for the downturn in the global economy". Sitting across from Trump on Sunday, he said: "We're in favour of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down if we can."

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned other leaders of the dangers of protectionism and urged Washington not to carry through on its threat to impose tariffs on German autos.

However, the White House doubled down on its aggressive stance toward trade with China.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, explaining what Trump meant at a news conference when he said he had second thoughts after he had raised tariffs on Chinese tariffs last week, said he meant that he wished he had raised them higher.

Underlining the multilateral discord even before the summit began, Trump threatened the meeting's host, saying Washington would tax French wine "like they've never seen before" unless Paris dropped a digital tax on US technology companies.

Reuters

 

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