Shock at G7 summit as Iran's Foreign Minister lands in Biarritz

White House terms France’s invitation to Mohammad Javad Zarif was “surprise”.

August 25, 2019 10:09 pm | Updated 10:09 pm IST - BIARRITZ

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. File photo.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. File photo.

Iran's foreign minister flew into the French resort hosting a G7 summit on August 25, an unexpected twist to a meeting already troubled by differences between U.S. President Donald Trump and Western allies over a raft of issues, including Iran.

Mohammad Javad Zarif was holding 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.

The French official said that at this stage there was no plan for Zarif to meet members of U.S. President Donald Trump's delegation at the summit venue, the Basque beachside town of Biarritz in southwest France.

Iranian U.N. mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi posted on Twitter: “No meeting with Americans in Biarritz.”

Asked about reports of Mr. Zarif's arrival at Biarritz, which had been closed for the Saturday-Monday summit of the seven industrialised nations, Mr. Trump said: “No comment”.

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 U.S. officials to meet him.

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

Earlier on August 25 at the summit, Mr. 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.

France said G7 leaders had agreed President Emmanuel Macron should hold talks and pass on messages to Iran. However, Mr. Trump, who has pushed a maximum pressure policy on Iran, distanced himself from the proposal, saying he had not even discussed it.

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

A difficult dinner

Mr. Trump insisted that he was getting along well with leaders at a G7 summit in France, but rifts emerged with his Western allies on issues ranging from his trade war with China to Iran, North Korea and Russia.

The G7 gathering is taking place against a backdrop of worries about a global economic downturn and coincides with an era of international disunity across an array of matters.

France's President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump pose for the media as they meet for the first working session of the G7 Summit.

France's President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump pose for the media as they meet for the first working session of the G7 Summit.

“Before I arrived in France, the Fake and Disgusting News was saying that relations with the 6 other countries in the G7 are very tense, and that the two days of meetings will be a disaster,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter shortly before meeting new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“Well, we are having very good meetings, the Leaders are getting along very well, and our Country, economically, is doing great - the talk of the world!”

Tensions were quickly on show, however, as the first full day of talks between the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States got underway in the Basque coast resort of Biarritz in southwest France.

Trump’s call

Before leaving Washington, Mr. Trump stepped up his tariff war with Beijing in a battle between the world’s two largest economies that has spooked financial markets, and called on U.S. companies to move out of China.

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 Mr. Trump on Sunday, he said: “We’re in favour of trade peace on the whole, and dialling it down if we can.” Asked if he was being pressed by allies to relent in his standoff with China, Mr. Trump said: “I think they respect the trade war.”

Underlining the multilateral discord even before the summit got under way, Mr. 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 U.S. technology companies.

European Council President Donald Tusk, who takes part in the G7 discussions, warned the EU would respond “in kind” if Mr. Trump acted on his threat.

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