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Iran's Zarif leaves G7 talks, unclear if progress made to ease tensions

  • 25 Aug 2019

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's presence had not been announced and represented a gamble by French host Emmanuel Macron who is seeking to soothe spiralling tensions between Iran and the US.

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron, US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for a family photo with invited guests during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. ( Reuters )

Iran's foreign minister made a flying visit for talks with host France at the G7 summit on Sunday, as Paris ramped up efforts to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington, a dramatic diplomatic move that the White House said had surprised them.

European leaders have struggled to tamp down the brewing confrontation between Iran and the United States since President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of Iran's internationally-brokered 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is under US sanctions, flew to the southwest French town of Biarritz where the Group of Seven leaders are meeting. He held more than three hours of talks, including with French President Emmanuel Macron, before heading back to Tehran.

G7 cracks emerge on Iran as Trump contests French role

Macron is treading the line on negotiations among G7 leaders over how to handle Iran, after US President Trump disputed his claim that they had agreed he could deliver a message to Iran on the leaders' behalf.

In an interview on LCI television just before Trump spoke, Macron said the leaders had agreed on what to say to Iran on their objectives. But Trump said he had agreed to nothing, and within a half-hour the French president's office released a new statement apparently trying to assuage Trump.

Macron said he would continue his efforts to de-escalate the situation around Iran as president of the G7. "He will address a message to the Iranians on the basis of the exchanges in the G7 format last night. Everyone will pursue their own outreach."

Iran's Zarif meets Macron

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on Sunday said he held talks with Macron after his surprise visit to the G7 summit to discuss the Iranian nuclear programme, saying there was a difficult road ahead.

Zarif wrote on Twitter he had met Macron after talks with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and also gave a briefing for British and German officials. 

"Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying," he said.

Earlier in the day, Iranian foreign ministry said Zarif has no plans to hold talks with Trump or any member of the US delegation.

"Zarif will convey the Iranian leadership's response to French President Emmanuel Macron's proposal that is aimed to save Iran's 2015 nuclear deal," a senior Iranian official said.

TRT World’s Simon McGregor-Wood reports.

Anti-G7 activists march with 'stolen' Macron portraits

Several hundred anti-G7 protesters staged an unusual protest in southwestern France on Sunday, holding "stolen" portraits of Macron which were held upside down in a pointed critique on his policies.

Demonstrators at the so-called "portrait march" were carrying official portraits of the 41-year-old French leader which had been taken down from town halls across the country over the last few months.

The climate and social justice march was organised by environmental activist group ANV COP 21, as well as two Basque groups Alternatiba et Bizi all of whom were marching under a slogan which pledged to "take down Macron".

"One, two, three degrees, it's a crime against humanity!" they chanted as they marched through the narrow streets of Bayonne near the southwestern French resort of Biarritz where world leaders are gathering for the G7 summit.

G7 leaders vow to help Brazil fight fires, repair damage

Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they are preparing to help Brazil battle fires burning across the Amazon region and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers got ready to join the fight against blazes that have caused global alarm.

Macron said the summit leaders were nearing an agreement on how to support Brazil and said the agreement would involve both technical and financial mechanisms "so that we can help them in the most effective way possible."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country and others will talk with Brazil about reforestation in the Amazon once fires there have been extinguished.

"Of course (this is) Brazilian territory, but we have a question here of the rainforests that is really a global question," she said. "The lung of our whole Earth is affected, and so we must find common solutions."

Boris Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson began his summit with a swim outside the rocky outcrop near the Hotel du Palais in the French resort of Biarritz.

Johnson, who is known more as a runner than a swimmer, took a dip in the Atlantic with Britain's ambassador to France.

French security officers, including one on a surfboard, accompanied the British leader as he swam around the rock. Johnson took the dip before an early morning breakfast meeting with Trump.

The beach is usually packed this time of year but is eerily empty this weekend because of heavy security for the world leaders.

Trump disputed reports that he faced a tense reception from world leaders at the summit.

In a Sunday morning tweet, Trump said, "the Leaders are getting along very well."

Trump is trying to use the summit to convince global leaders to do more to address a global economic slowdown, as fears rise it could soon affect the US ahead of his re-election.

But his counterparts, including British Prime Minister Johnson, whom he is set to meet Sunday, are trying to convince him to back off his trade war with China and other countries, which they see as contributing to the economic weakening.

Trump tweets that "our Country, economically, is doing great — the talk of the world!"

The G7 gathering is taking place against a backdrop of growing worries about a global economic downturn and coincides with an era of international disunity across an array of issues that have strained decades-old allegiances.

Trump joined the leaders from France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada in the French coastal resort of Biarritz for three days of talks that kicked off on Saturday with an ambitious agenda that includes the defence of democracy, gender equality, education and climate change.

The delegations had barely arrived before divergences were exposed, with senior US officials accusing host Macron, of looking "to fracture the G7" by focusing on "niche issues" rather than major global concerns.

France denied this, pointing to Sunday's initial session covering the economy, trade and security - areas that used to draw easy consensus but are now sources of great friction.

Trump arrived in France just hours after escalating his trade war with China in a tit-for-tat battle between the world's two largest economies that has spooked financial markets.

Brexit squabbles

Trump up-ended last year's G7 summit in Canada, walking out of the meeting early and disassociating himself from the final communique having initially endorsed the document.

France has got around that problem by doing away with the time-honoured communique, deciding it was not worth even trying to find common language.

While the transatlantic rift is the most stark, there are also deep divisions within the European camp, with Johnson making his G7 debut at a time when he is struggling to persuade EU capitals to renegotiate Britain's divorce from the bloc.

Johnson and EU Council President Donald Tusk, who are due to talk on Sunday on the sidelines of the summit, sparred ahead of the meeting over who would take the blame if Britain leaves the EU on Oct. 31 without a Brexit agreement acceptable to both sides.

"I still hope that PM Johnson will not like to go down in history as Mr No Deal," said Tusk, who leads the political direction of the 28-nation European Union.

Johnson later retorted that it would be Tusk himself who would carry the mantle if Britain could not secure a new withdrawal agreement.

Protests

By Saturday evening, 68 people had been arrested, 38 of whom were taken into custody, officials said.

A judicial source later said around 30 were still being held in custody on Sunday evening.

On Sunday, authorities said 19 people were arrested and 17 of them held in custody as part of the beefed-up security plan for the G7.

French riot police briefly used water cannons and tear gas on Saturday to disperse anti-capitalism protesters in Bayonne, near the resort of Biarritz where Macron and G7 nation allies were meeting for a three-day summit.

A police helicopter circled overhead as dozens of protesters, some wearing face masks, taunted lines of police.

Earlier, thousands of anti-globalisation activists, Basque separatists and "yellow vest" protesters marched peacefully across France's border with Spain to demand action from G7 leaders meeting in the nearby coastal resort of Biarritz. 

Trade wars

EU leaders rounded on Trump over his trade threats on Saturday at a G7 summit in France overshadowed by trans-Atlantic tensions and worries about the global economy.

After ramping up his high-risk trade war with China on Friday, Trump left for the meeting with his Western partners in surf town Biarritz threatening to impose punishing tariffs on French wine.

"The last thing we need is confrontation with our best ally the United States," EU Council President Tusk said on Saturday while adding that the bloc would "respond in kind" to any new US tariffs.

French host of the G7 summit, Macron, and Johnson also sounded the alarm about the dangers of Trump's escalating trade war with China.

"I am very concerned. The UK is at risk of being implicated in this. This is not the way to proceed," Johnson told reporters on the plane to the summit.

"I want to see a dialling down of tensions."

Trump 'a very special guest'

G7 summits were once a meeting of like-minded allies –– Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

But not since Trump's 2016 election victory.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, Macron deployed the charms of French cuisine diplomacy, treating the US leader to a surprise lunch minutes after he had arrived on Air Force One.

Speaking to reporters in fluent English, Macron called Trump "a very special guest" and aides later said that the two men had found some common ground, notably on the Iran nuclear crisis.

'So far so good'

Trump, sitting across the small table on a terrace of the ornate Hotel du Palais, appeared to be softened by the warm, unscheduled welcome.

"So far so good. The weather is perfect. Everybody's getting along. I think we will accomplish a lot this weekend," Trump said, praising his "special relationship" with Macron.

In addition to the global economy and fears of recession, the G7 chiefs are hoping to soothe tensions over Iran's nuclear crisis and ease Trump's policy of "maximum pressure."

European powers are urging the US to offer some sort of relief to Iran, such as lifting sanctions on oil sales to China and India or allowing a new credit line for exports.

"Donald Trump confirmed that he does not see a conflict, that he wanted a deal with Iran," a French official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Amazon fires

"We have found major points of convergence," the aide added, including on the issue of protecting the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

Macron added to the internal EU strains by unexpectedly threatening on Friday to block an EU trade deal with a group of South American states over Brazil's handling of fires that are ravaging the Amazon rainforest.

Germany and Britain both voiced deep concern about the blazes, but disagreed with Macron on how to respond, saying shooting down the ambitious Mercosur trade accord would not help save the Amazon.

Macron is pushing for action against fires in the Amazon rainforest, despite Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro's angry response to what he sees as outside interference.

Echoing criticism from France, Tusk said Bolsonaro's response to the "destruction of the green lungs of the Earth" was insufficient and he warned that a big EU trade deal with South America could be imperilled.

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