EghtesadOnline: The French president's office described talks on the sidelines of the Group of Seven (G7) summit in the coastal town of Biarritz between French leaders and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as "positive" and said the discussions, in which Germany and Britain also participated, would continue.
Zarif made a surprise visit to Biarritz, France, for several hours on Sunday amid European efforts to salvage the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. He held more than three hours of talks, including with French President Emmanuel Macron, before heading back to Tehran.
"The discussions are positive and are ongoing," an official in Macron's office said of the talks, which drew in both Macron and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as well as German and British officials, AFP reported.
Zarif wrote on Twitter that he had met Macron, according to Financial Tribune.
"Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying," he said.
The French official added that the decision to invite Zarif had been taken "in agreement with the United States, in perfect harmony."
However, an unnamed White House official said US President Donald Trump was not forewarned by France that Zarif would meet a French delegation on the sidelines of the summit.
European leaders have struggled to tamp down the brewing confrontation between Iran and the US since Trump pulled Washington out of Iran’s internationally-brokered nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.
French officials sought to bill the meeting as important to “refine Iranian propositions” to help defuse the crisis after G7 leaders had discussed Iran over dinner on Saturday.
The nuclear deal between Iran and major powers aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions on Tehran.
Since pulling Washington out of the deal last year, Trump has pushed a maximum pressure policy to try to force Iran into a new negotiation that would include its ballistic missile program and regional activities.
While Trump’s European allies also want new talks with Iran, they believe the nuclear deal must be upheld. Macron, who has taken the lead in Europe in trying to salvage the agreement and avert a deeper crisis in the Middle East, had already met Zarif in Paris on Friday.
They discussed proposals to de-escalate tensions between Washington and Tehran, including easing some US sanctions or providing Iran with an economic compensation mechanism to make up for oil revenues lost under US sanctions.
No Change in US Approach
But despite Macron spending two hours with Trump over lunch on Saturday and all seven leaders discussing Iran at length in the evening, it did not appear that the US leader had budged on easing oil sanctions as Macron had sought from Trump.
A European diplomat familiar with the discussions said the leaders had failed at the dinner to persuade Trump.
Earlier on Sunday, Trump appeared to brush aside French efforts to mediate with Iran, saying that while he was happy for Macron to reach out to Tehran to defuse tensions, the United States would carry on with its own initiatives.
Macron’s invitation to Zarif had caught Trump by surprise, a White House official said, and no US officials met with Zarif during the visit.
Other delegations also said they had been informed at the last minute. The Elysee said delegations had been informed, but everything had happened very quickly.
US authorities earlier this month placed Zarif under US sanctions.
“Zarif will convey the Iranian leadership’s response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal aimed at saving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal,” an Iranian official had told Reuters.
In response to the tougher US sanctions and the failure of European powers party to the deal, namely France, Britain and Germany, to compensate it for lost revenues, Tehran has responded with a series of moves, including retreating from some of its commitments to limit its nuclear activity.
Reuters cited two Iranian officials and one diplomat as saying on Sunday that 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 nuclear deal.
One of the Iranian officials also said Iran’s ballistic missile program was not open for negotiation.
However, a diplomatic Iranian source denied any discussion about the amount of oil exports, saying, “It is Iran’s absolute right to sell and export as much oil as it wishes and receive it revenues,” Sputnik reported.
Trump said earlier that when asked about Macron’s mediation efforts, “We’ll do our own outreach, but, you know, I can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk.”
The United States has made no indication it will ease any curbs and it is unclear what kind of compensation mechanism Macron wants to offer Iran, given at this stage a proposed trade channel for humanitarian and food exchanges with Iran is still not operational.
Macron has also said in return for any concessions he would expect Iran to comply fully with the nuclear deal and for Iran to engage in new negotiations.
“It’s unprecedented and given the context, it’s pretty audacious,” said a French diplomatic source.