BIARRITZ, France (AP) – A top Iranian official paid an unannounced visit Sunday to the G7 summit and headed straight to the buildings where leaders of the world’s major democracies have been debating how to handle the country’s nuclear ambitions.
France’s surprise invitation of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was a high-stakes gamble for French President Emmanuel Macron, who is the host of the Group of Seven gathering in Biarritz.
Zarif’s plane left Tehran on Sunday morning and touched down a few hours later at the Biarritz airport, which has been closed since Friday to all flights unrelated to the official G7 delegations.
A senior French official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, said Zarif went directly into a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said Zarif flew to Biarritz at the invitation of the French foreign minister. Mousavi said on Twitter that there would be no meetings or negotiations with American officials during Zarif’s trip.
Asked whether the White House was aware of Zarif’s visit, the French official said, “We operate on our own terms” but noted that Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump met for two hours Saturday and discussed Iran at length, as well as at the group dinner.
The official described it as a Franco-Iranian meeting for the moment and said that France “is working in full transparency with the U.S. and in full transparency with European partners.” The Iranian had met with Macron on Friday.
Zarif, who faces U.S. sanctions, had been scheduled to go to Asia as part of a tour to seek support for Iran amid the American campaign against it since Trump withdrew the U.S. from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Trump had not “set preconditions” on negotiations with Iran.
Zarif arrived as fissures emerged among G7 leaders over how to deal with Iran.
Macron said the leaders agreed during a dinner the night before that the French president could serve as a G7 messenger to Iran. Trump denied agreeing to anything, and Macron was forced to play down his role and acknowledge Trump’s status as “the president of the world’s number one power.”
G7: Trump Smacks Down Macron's Claim to Leading Role in Iran Talks https://t.co/mMoeurj4ws
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The French official also said that based on Saturday night’s dinner, France considers it important to check in with Zarif to continue to bring positions closer together and ease tensions. The official said the French are not “mediators” but think they can contribute to de-escalation.
Macron said he has no formal mandate to speak for the G7 leaders in delivering a message to Iran, but that he would be able to address the issue in the context of what they agreed to during a dinner.
For several months, Macron has taken a lead role in trying to save the 2015 nuclear accord, which has been unravelling since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement. His office said the G7 leaders agreed he should serve as a go-between with Iran.
“I haven’t discussed that,” Trump said Sunday morning. He described the dinner as “very, very good” and blamed the media for anything that implied otherwise.
But it seemed from other accounts that the previous night’s dinner had been tense, with a clear divide between him and the rest of the G7.
Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Zeke Miller and David McHugh in Biarritz contributed to this report.
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