Iranian foreign minister Zarif's flying visit to the G7 in Biarritz


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif held surprise talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Biarritz on Sunday, staying in the resort town for only a few hours.

The Iranian minister's unexpected arrival came as Macron stepped up efforts to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran that the U.S. has abandoned, adding to escalating tensions in the Gulf.

Zarif tweeted a picture showing him meeting Macron and France's foreign and finance ministers. He said on Twitter that he held "extensive talks" with the ministers. He also said there was a "joint briefing" for British and German officials attending the summit of major Western powers and Japan. "Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying," Zarif said.

His office had already made clear as he arrived that he would not meet with U.S. officials.

U.S. President Donald Trump briskly told reporters he had "no comment" on Zarif as word emerged that he was arriving. The U.S. recently sanctioned the minister.

However, there was no sign of tensions between Trump and Macron later in the day, as they arrived to pose for a family photo of the G7 leaders and guests. The two presidents briefly chatted and appeared in friendly spirits.

It remained unclear what the visit accomplished, especially as Zarif was in France last week.

In recent days, there have been signs of escalations between Israel and Iranian proxies and military wings in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, though the major concern of direct confrontation between the U.S. and Iran has not shifted.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Zarif's visit was "not a G7 event", but any attempts to de-escalate tensions with Iran were worthwhile.

Flight tracking site showed Zarif's plane taking off from Biarritz at 7:33 pm, just over five hours after his arrival.

Just before Zarif landed, Macron denied that the G7 had given him a "mandate" to hold talks with Iran on behalf of the elite group, saying it was an "informal club" that did not hand out negotiating mandates.

Macron said there was no sign the U.S. was preparing to make concessions on the crippling sanctions it imposed on Iran after pulling out of the nuclear deal, saying: "No, listen, we're not at that point at all."

French diplomatic officials had earlier said that G7 leaders had authorised Macron to hold dialogue with Iran to reduce tensions, but Trump soon afterwards said he had not authorised any such plan.

"We can't stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk," Trump said, as he met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Trump said he supports any outreach from Macron aimed at calming tensions and noted that Abe was also trying to talk to Iran.

Summit host Macron said the G7 leaders had agreed on two overriding objectives: Iran should never get a nuclear weapon - Tehran denies seeking one - but stability in the region should also be preserved.

None of the G7 members "want to engage in actions that could harm that," Macron told reporters between sessions.

Tensions have risen in the Gulf in recent months as the United States, which last year withdrew from the 2015 agreement to control Iran's nuclear activities, pursues a "maximum pressure" strategy involving crippling sanctions on Iran.

In an apparent nod to the U.S., Macron said that while European states had kept the nuclear agreement alive, the U.S. pressure might have made the Iranian side more willing to move on issues outside the scope of the agreement.

Trump has previously accused Macron of sending "mixed signals" to Tehran in his attempts to salvage the nuclear deal.

Trump upset European allies after he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, despite no sign at the time that Tehran was violating the agreement designed to prevent the Islamic republic from obtaining a weapon of mass destruction.

The U.S. sanctions are aimed at hurting Iran's vital oil sector, but also at preventing other nations from doing business with the country by imposing U.S. penalties.

Recent military incidents in the Gulf have added to tensions, with the U.S. dispatching military assets to the region and Iran downing a U.S. drone.

The sides have stepped back from the precipice, but the underlying issues remain highly volatile.

Specifically, the U.S. remains determined to change Iranian foreign policy and some internal affairs. Iran rejects any interference in how it governs or behaves in the Middle East, including support for proxies and allies.    (dpa)

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