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  • 26 Aug 2019

US President Donald Trump on Monday offered an olive branch to China after days of intense feuding over trade that has spooked financial markets and he opened the door to diplomacy with Iran, easing tensions on the last day of a strained G7 summit.

US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel participate in a bilateral meeting at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. August 26, 2019. ( Andrew Harnik / AP )

US President Donald Trump on Monday offered an olive branch to China after days of intense feuding over trade that has spooked financial markets and he opened the door to diplomacy with Iran, easing tensions on the last day of a strained G7 summit. Leaders of G7 countries also agreed to an immediate $20 million fund to help Amazon countries fight wildfires and launch a long-term global initiative to protect the rainforest.

The announcement came from French President Emmanuel Macron, the host of this year's meeting of G-7 leaders, and the Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. Macron said that the Amazon represents the "lungs" of the planet and that leaders were studying the possibility of similar support in Africa, also suffering from fires in its rainforests.

Macron said the US supported the initiative, although he acknowledged Trump had skipped Monday's working session on the environment.

Satellites have recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year — with more than half of those coming this month alone. Experts say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland.

China trade deal

Trump said on Monday that trade negotiations with China were in a much better position than at any time and, asked if he could delay planned tariffs on Chinese goods, replied: "Anything is possible".

Earlier on the sidelines of a G7 summit in France, Trump said he believed China wanted to make a trade deal after it contacted US trade officials overnight to say it wanted to return to the negotiating table.

"Anything is possible. I can say we are having very meaningful talks, much more meaningful I would say than any time frankly.
For the most part, it is because we are doing very well," he said.

"China is a great country ... They are losing millions and millions of jobs which are going to other countries. If I were them I would want to make a deal."

"I think we are probably in a much better place now than at any time in the negotiation. I don't think we could have gotten here without going through this process. I think we are in a stronger position to do a deal. A fair deal for everyone." 

Trump's comments followed moves by China's most powerful trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, to take the edge off the soaring tensions.

"We are willing to solve the problem through consultation and cooperation with a calm attitude," said Liu, according to a report by Chinese news outlet Caixin.

"We firmly oppose the escalation of the trade war," he said, speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2019 Smart China Expo in the southwestern city of Chongqing.

Trump later said "calm" was "a very good word to use. It's not a word I use often."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with US President Donald Trump on Monday on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, where she says they spoke about Iran, Russia and other issues.

When asked by a reporter if he would consider tariffs on German cars, Trump responded with "I hope not. We're going to come to some conclusions. We talked about a new trade deal between not just Germany between the Union and ourselves, European Union and I think, you know, we're having some very good discussions going on."

Iran FM visit

Trump said he gave his approval for Iran's top diplomat to make an unannounced appearance on the margins of the G7 summit, denying on Monday that he was surprised or angered and claiming "unity" with the other leaders.

Macron's invitation to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was a bold gamble that he could secure a breakthrough in global tensions over Iran's nuclear programme.

Macron, the host of the Group of Seven gatherings in the seaside resort of Biarritz, and other G7 leaders opposed Trump's decision last year to pull the United States out of a nuclear deal with Iran and to impose new sanctions.

They have been trying to salvage the painstakingly negotiated treaty ever since.

Trump would not say if any Americans met with Zarif during the foreign minister's brief time in Biarritz on Sunday. Some of the US sanctions directly target Zarif.

"It's all very new," Trump said.

Tensions over Iran, Russia, the US trade war with China and the faltering global economy have dominated the three-day summit, which Trump and Macron are set to finish with a joint news conference on Monday.

Macron and the other leaders of the G-7 countries, which also include Germany, Britain, Canada, Italy and Japan, have sidestepped their differences with Trump, known for his short fuse and scepticism of international cooperation.

Seated alongside Merkel, Trump claimed "great unity" among the leaders on the subject of Iran.

"We've come to a conclusion, more or less. But the biggest part of the conclusion: They can't have nuclear weapons," he said.

That conclusion was one world leaders reached long ago and the purpose of the 2015 accord, which took years to negotiate.

It was not clear when precisely Macron extended the invitation to Zarif or when he informed the others that the Iranian was on his way. Trump said he and Macron spoke directly.

The French president's office said everything came together in a matter of hours.

"I said if you want to do that, that's OK. I don't consider that disrespectful at all. Especially when he asked me for approval," Trump said.

In a televised speech, Iranian President Rouhani also appeared on the defensive, shielding his foreign minister against criticism from hard-liners who have rejected negotiations until sanctions are lifted.
Iran's economy has nosedived since the US imposed new sanctions.

"If I knew that going to a meeting and visiting a person would help my country's development and resolve the problems of the people, I would not miss it," Rouhani said. "Even if the odds of success are not 90 percent but are 20 or 10 percent, we must move ahead with it. We should not miss opportunities."

Macron has said the summit will end without a final joint statement, hoping to avoid last year's disastrous gathering in Canada when Trump repudiated his signature shortly after leaving and tweeted criticism of the host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But officials were expecting more limited agreements on issues such as coordinating taxes on the digital business of tech giants, which Trump said was nearing agreement after his threats of retaliatory tariffs on French wine.

Meanwhile, Trump said he spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about Kashmir, but Modi told him that he has it under control and that India and Pakistan's issues are bilateral.

The exchange comes weeks after India imposed a crippling lockdown on Kashmir, stripping it of its semi-autonomous status.

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