TEHRAN: French President Emmanuel Macron was to hold talks Friday with Iran’s foreign minister ahead of a G7 meeting where he will attempt to soothe tensions between Tehran and Washington at what risks being a stormy summit.
“We’re at a critical moment,” Macron warned on Wednesday, acknowledging that Iran is “laying out a strategy for exiting the JCPOA,” the name of the 2015 accord reining in the country’s nuclear ambitions.
He admitted this week there were “true disagreements” over Iran within the G7 club of rich nations, which are meeting in France this weekend.
But Macron said he would “try to propose things” in the talks with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Friday.
Tensions have soared in recent months over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, with both Tehran and Washington claiming to have shot down rival drones in the Mideast.
Iran has also locked horns with Britain, with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seizing a British tanker in July after Britain detained an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar.
France has stepped up its outreach to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, with Macron twice dispatching his diplomatic advisor Emmanuel Bonne to Tehran in recent months.
“President Rouhani instructed me to go and meet with President Macron (to see) whether we can finalise some of these proposals in order to be able to have everybody comply with their obligations under the JCPOA,” Zarif said in Norway on Thursday.
“It’s an opportunity to review the proposal by President Macron and to present the views of President Rouhani and see if we can find more common ground. We already have some common ground.”
But the nuclear deal has all but collapsed after US President Donald Trump pulled the US out unilaterally in May 2018 and re-imposed sanctions that have wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy.
The European signatories vowed to find a workaround and have implored Tehran to respect the deal nonetheless.
But in July, it announced its nuclear programme would no longer be bound by some of the deal’s key restrictions.
“They can be reversed as soon as Europe comes into compliance with its own obligations under the JCPOA,” Zarif said Thursday.
– Maximum pressure –
Macron’s diplomacy is a delicate task, with France seeking a rollback on some of the US measures imposed on Iran as part of Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy towards the Islamic republic.
French diplomats have raised the idea of US waivers on sanctions affecting Iranian oil exports to India and China, or a new credit line for Tehran that could help the struggling economy.
US President Donald Trump has accused Macron of sending Tehran “mixed signals”, a charge rejected by the French government, which says its role is “to make every effort to ensure that all parties agree to a break and open negotiations.”
On a host of issues, G7 members France, the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan find themselves at loggerheads, upending what used to be a cosy club of rich nations.
Trump left the last summit in Quebec in June 2018 accusing his host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of being “very dishonest and weak”.
The US leader is set to arrive for the French summit in the town of Biarritz on Saturday already riled by a new French law that will increase taxes on US internet giants such as Google and Facebook.
Trump is also threatening tariffs on the European automobile sector, while the climate change sceptic is not expected to contribute to Macron’s official agenda of fighting global warming.
The fierce fires devouring thousands of acres in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest could spark further disputes, with both Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying the crisis demands a collective G7 response.
That garnered a furious response from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — often called “South America’s Trump” — who denounced any such G7 talks on the fires a display as “colonialist mentality.”
Faced with the multiple G7 divisions, French officials have scrapped the idea of a final joint statement — seen as an admission of the summit’s lowered ambitions.