Michael Peel and Victor Mallet
Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visit came after Donald Trump clashed with leaders of other big world economies over both Iran and his proposal to restore Russia to the G7.
“We are working in full transparency with the US . . . and with our European partners,” a senior French official said of Mr Zarif’s presence, adding that there was no US-Iran meeting planned “at this stage”.
Mr Zarif instead met Mr Macron and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian on the sidelines of the summit as France stepped up diplomatic efforts to defuse a growing security crisis in the Gulf.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said the brief visit was part of diplomatic moves between the Islamic republic and EU states to save the nuclear deal and to pursue “the initiative” between the Iranian and French presidents. Mr Zarif later tweeted: “Iran’s active diplomacy in pursuit of constructive engagement continues . . . Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying.”
Mr Macron has led a European push — backed by the UK and Germany — to ease tensions in the region by encouraging a US-Iran deal. This would see the relaxing of US sanctions to allow Tehran to sell more oil in exchange for an Iranian return to compliance with restrictions on its nuclear programme.
A senior diplomat from another European delegation warned that the unannounced visit risked provoking Mr Trump and looking like a “French stunt”. However French officials said the meeting had been arranged in association with Germany and the UK and that Mr Trump had been told in advance of Mr Zarif’s visit by Mr Macron.
The meeting followed intense discussions on Iran and Russia at a dinner at the Biarritz lighthouse on Saturday night, which appeared to exacerbate transatlantic tensions.
The senior European diplomat said the event featured “lots of barbs” and was “not a pleasant evening for leaders”. Another European official said the discord extended to whether the G7 should be a club only for democratic states or — as Mr Trump envisaged — opened to more authoritarian powers.
Diplomats said the main disagreement was over a renewed call by Mr Trump for Russia under President Vladimir Putin to be restored to the grouping, which operated as the G8 until Moscow was ejected over its 2014 invasion of Crimea. Mr Trump said the discussion about Iran needed Mr Putin at the table. Most G7 members won’t consider readmission without substantial conditions including peace in eastern Ukraine.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, had said before the dinner that “under no condition” would he agree to Russia’s readmission.
He added that he would instead push for the G7 to invite Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s new president, as a guest
“Most of the leaders insisted on [the G7] being a family or club of liberal democracies and for that reason you can’t allow Putin back in,” the second European official said. “That point was clearly not shared by President Trump”.
Mr Trump said the G7 had a “lively discussion” on Russia, and that it was “certainly possible” he would invite Mr Putin to be a guest at the group’s summit when the US hosts it next year.
The US leader said in a tweet he was “having very good meetings, the Leaders are getting along very well”. But other G7 countries are dismayed by Mr Trump’s pursuit of a trade war with China and his withdrawal from the Paris agreement to tackle climate change.
The rifts within the G7 have undermined efforts to avoid a repeat of the debacle after last year’s summit in Canada, when Mr Trump attacked Justin Trudeau, the host country’s prime minister, and repudiated the meeting’s communiqué. In an effort to reduce the potential for conflict this time, Mr Macron has dropped plans for a communiqué altogether.
Additional reporting Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran