Surprise visit by Iran’s top diplomat ‘not a G7 event’, says Merkel

Germany Chancellor, Angela Merkel
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says a surprise visit by Iran’s top diplomat to the French town where leaders of top democratic economies are meeting is “not a G7 event”.

Ms Merkel described Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif’s drop-in as “a parallel event in the same spot”.

She, however, said that any attempt to de-escalate tensions with Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal would be worthwhile.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Iranian foreign minister made a surprise visit to the G7 summit in Biarritz on Sunday, as France continued its diplomatic efforts to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran that the U.S. has abandoned.

A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Mr Zarif had been invited by France and that he had no plans to talk to U.S. officials, who are in the resort town for the summit.

Mr Zarif was recently placed under U.S. sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump briskly told reporters he had “no comment” on Zarif as word emerged that he was arriving.

It was unclear if the U.S. side knew about the French invitation to Mr Zarif, who is only expected to be in town for several hours.

Just hours before Mr Zarif landed, French President Emmanuel Macron denied that the G7 had given him a “mandate” to hold talks with Iran on behalf of the elite group of the world’s top democratic economies.

“The G7 is an informal club, there’s no such thing as a formal mandate that somebody gives someone else in the G7,” he said, even as he vowed to press ahead with talks with Iran on his own.

French diplomatic officials earlier said that G7 leaders had authorised Mr Macron to hold dialogue with Iran to reduce tensions, but Mr Trump immediately threw cold water on the idea.

Asked by reporters at the summit in Biarritz if he had authorized Mr Macron’s plan to reach out to Iran, Mr Trump flatly said no, but then indicated he would not object to any attempts at dialogue.

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

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

A source in Mr Macron’s office said that Paris was working “in full transparency with the U.S. and … in transparency with our European partners.”

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Summit host Mr Macron said that the G7 leaders had agreed on two overriding objectives: Iran should never get a nuclear weapon – it 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,” Mr Macron told reporters between sessions.

Tensions have risen in the Gulf in recent months as the U.S., which last year withdrew from the 2015 agreement to control Iran’s nuclear activities, pursues a “maximum pressure” strategy involving crippling sanctions on Iran.

The U.S. has also made attempts to prevent an Iranian oil tanker from passing through the Mediterranean Sea to reach Syria.

In an apparent nod to the U.S., Mr 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.

Mr Trump has previously accused Mr Macron of sending “mixed signals” to Tehran in his attempts to salvage the nuclear deal and insisted no one can negotiate on behalf of the U.S.

Mr Trump upset European allies after he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, despite no sign at the time that Tehran was violating the agreement, which was 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, which at one point appeared to be on the verge of an actual war, 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/NAN)


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