Iran FM Zarif arrives as surprise guest in G7 venue Biarritz for nuclear deal talks

25 Aug, 2019

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spent about five hours in Biarritz, France, at the sidelines of the G7 summit. He talked with French president Emmanuel Macron, who appeared to want to act as negotiator between Iran and the US.

The unscheduled visit at the invitation of Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian came after Zarif met President Emmanuel Marcon earlier this week to discuss the fate of the embattled nuclear agreement. Zarif did not meet with US President Donald Trump or anyone from the US delegation, an Iranian spokesman said.

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran Deal) all but collapsed after the US withdrew unilaterally last May, leaving Washington’s European allies struggling to maintain trade with Tehran in the face of multiple rounds of US sanctions, and with military tensions between Iran and the US flaring in the Persian Gulf.

President Macron has made restarting negotiations with Tehran a priority at this weekend’s G7 summit. Whereas Macron presented his peace plan to Trump, the US leader arrived with hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, and insisted that his “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic was working. Trump was also unaware that Zarif was coming to town and some US officials even took offense with the issue. US President Trump offered a succinct “no comment.”

Macron’s plan reportedly involves the US lifting its oil embargo on Iran, in exchange for Iran immediately returning to compliance with the 2015 deal, and coming to the negotiating table. Zarif held over three hours of talks, including with Macron, and briefed officials from Britain and Germany.

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While a French official told Reuters that the talks were “positive and will continue,” their content remains a secret.

The “road ahead is difficult,” Zarif tweeted after meeting French officials, “but worth trying.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel added that any talks with Zarif were a side event to the summit, and herself and her G7 counterparts would continue to “find a way to de-escalate” tensions with Tehran.

Though it was reported that the G7 leaders had agreed to task Macron with delivering a joint statement to Iran, President Trump told reporters on Sunday that he hadn’t “discussed that.”

Divided in their approach to doing so, the G7 leaders could only agree jointly that they wanted to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb and ensure peace and stability in the Middle East.

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