Although French President Emmanuel Macron agreed on Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's visit to the French town of Biarritz with Donald Trump in advance, the Iranian official's arrival at the G7 summit caught White House officials by surprise.
"Iran's active diplomacy in pursuit of constructive engagement continues", the Iranian foreign minister tweeted.
Iran's active diplomacy in pursuit of constructive engagement continues.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) 25 августа 2019 г.
Met @EmmanuelMacron on sidelines of #G7Biarritz after extensive talks with @JY_LeDrian & Finance Min. followed by a joint briefing for UK/Germany.
Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying. pic.twitter.com/oXdACvt20T
Trump said on Monday that he had not met with Zarif, who was earlier subjected to US sanctions, because it was "too soon".
The Iranian foreign minister's trip to France came amid growing tensions between Tehran and Washington. Following the US' unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Washington has continued to step up pressure on the Iranian leadership through sanctions and a military build-up in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the European signatories to the Iran nuclear deal are seemingly trying to calm the situation down by declaring commitment to the accords and seeking ways to circumvent US sanctions. Thus, in late June 2019, the European Union announced that the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) aimed at conducting trade with the Islamic Republic had been made operational.
Earlier, the semiautonomous British territory that captured Iranian vessel Grace-1 in July rejected Washington's request to repeatedly seize the vessel over US sanctions violation. Gibraltar's government made it clear on 18 August that the request did not comply with EU laws. On 26 August, Iranian media reported that the Islamic Republic had sold its crude from Grace-1 amid the US oil embargo.
Macron Took a 'Unique Step' by Inviting Zarif to Biarritz
Seyed Mohammad Marandi, a professor at Tehran University, who was part of the Iranian delegation that helped negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, believes that Zarif's surprising visit to Biarritz has sent a positive sign to the international community.
"I think the results were positive in a sense that since Dr Zarif has been sanctioned by the United States, the very fact that he travelled to France when Trump was in the country was a slap in the face for US foreign policy", Marandi emphasises.
The Iranian academic highlights that the foreign minister's trip was by no means aimed at finding ways to directly negotiate with Donald Trump, as "Iranians have stated very clearly that the only way that the United States has an opportunity to come back to the negotiating table is that they accept the nuclear deal and implement it in full".
"For Iran the important thing is that the EU abides by its commitments to the nuclear deal and to grow a backbone and to resist bullying by Bolton and the White House", Marandi notes. "[The] Iranians have been fully abiding by their commitments to the nuclear deal alone almost over the last year and a half now".
According to Alexander Gillespie, professor of international law at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, Macron's decision to invite Iran's top diplomat amid the G7 summit was "a unique step".
"I think the French are trying very hard to broker some form of deal to calm the situation down", Gillespie says. "[Macron] created a situation in which the chances for direct negotiation are possible".
The professor believes that the ball is now in Iran's court: it will all depend on whether Iran is willing to re-negotiate the 2015 nuclear agreement and, possibly, its missile programme, and if so, over what aspects.
"Until [Iran and the US] put their cards on the table, it is hard to see if a compromise is possible. But Macron, at least, is trying to get them to the table".
However, although French President Emmanuel Macron and other G7 members, excluding the US, are signalling willingness to defuse tensions with Iran, it will be hard for them to walk the talk, suggests John Dunn, professor emeritus of political theory at Cambridge University.
"I'm sure that Macron will make an attempt to communicate with Tehran. But I don't actually expect any concrete steps to happen… I mean what Tehran wants the EU to do is to spin it from the American sanctions and EU can't really do as it can make sort of talk and gestures, but so far it certainly hasn't managed to do anything effective to help reanimate the economy in face of American sanctions", Dunn points out.
Trump Doesn't Appear to be Willing to De-Escalate Tensions With Iran
During the G7 summit, French President Emmanuel Macron made an announcement that G7 leaders had agreed on joint action regarding Iran that aims at opening new negotiations with Tehran.
"We agreed on what we wanted to say jointly on Iran", Macron told LCI television.
However, Donald Trump quickly rejected the statement: "No I haven't discussed that", the US president told journalists in Biarritz on Sunday.
"I don't think the US is intending to de-escalate tensions unless it actually gets something from Tehran which I don't think Tehran is willing to offer", John Dunn presumes. "It is unlikely to offer any really major concessions to the United States under any other circumstances".
Nevertheless, the professor believes that it is unlikely that Trump is seeking a direct confrontation with Iran amid the present stalemate.
Alexander Gillespie shares a similar opinion: "I don't think Trump wants a war with Iran", he says. "If it was anything but a short and sharp conflict, it could hurt him badly going into next year’s election cycle in America". According to the New Zealand academic, Trump knows that "he cannot get everything his administration wants from Iran, but if he got something, a deal might be possible".
Iranian Professor Marandi holds a different stance: according to him, the only way for the US to forge a new path towards diplomacy with Tehran is to implement the nuclear deal in full and make up for the damage that the US has caused.
"That's the only way that they will have enough opportunity to sit at the negotiating table with Iran, because, as I said, it's not Iran who left the negotiating table, it's the Americans under Trump", he insists.
Still, Marandi remains highly sceptical about the possibility of such an outcome: he emphasises that the US’ Iran policy is inconsistent, as "there is a deep conflict between the different players in the White House".
"Even Trump himself repeatedly contradicts himself", he remarks, adding that it was the US that destroyed any potential trust that could have been developed between Tehran and Washington by tearing the JCPOA apart.
Still, during a press conference on the final day of the summit, Donald Trump confirmed that it does "sound realistic" that the US and Iran could meet in the coming weeks on the nuclear issue.
"I think there's a really good chance that we would meet", the US president said on 26 August.
Earlier, President Macron revealed that he had been working on arranging a meeting between Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani. The US president did not respond to this statement directly, but noted that Iran's missile programme should also be discussed: "We’re looking for no nuclear weapons, no ballistic missiles, and a longer period of time", the US president said, adding that he really believed that "Iran can be a great nation".
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