WASHINGTON – French President Emmanuel Macron has agreed to work with US President Donald Trump toward a “new deal” with Iran that addresses the “situation” in the Middle East and “contains Iran in the region,” Macron said on Tuesday.
The French proposal would keep the existing nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in place. That agreement reached in 2015 between Iran and world powers was designed to address Tehran’s short-term nuclear work, Macron stated.
“We have nuclear in the short-run, and we have nuclear in the long run” to deal with, he continued. “We have ballistic activity. We have regional activity by Iran.
“The JCPOA is the first pillar we just described,” he said.
"What we have to work on, obviously, with Iran and the different parties in the region, the P5 and our allies, is to find a fair deal where we can fix the overall situation."
Macron’s initiative would appear to save the nuclear deal in its current form past a May 12 deadline set by Trump for European powers to negotiate “fixes” to the accord.
French, British and German diplomats have been working with their US counterparts to accommodate the president’s deadline.
Speaking alongside Trump at the White House, Macron said the two leaders initially approached the agreement from different perspectives.
“Neither you nor I have a habit of changing our stances,” he quipped. But they are beginning to “overcome” their disagreements “by deciding to work toward an overall deal.”
An hour-long, one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office earlier in the day seemed to mark a breakthrough in dialogue between the two men, who have built a strong personal relationship since Macron assumed office less than one year ago.
“We therefore wish from now on to work on a new deal with Iran,” Macron said. “I would like us to commit to that effect in the weeks and months to come.”
Macron, who is in Washington as the guest of the first state visit of Trump’s presidency, traveled with Iran top on his mind, and entered their joint press conference sounding optimistic that the US president would go along with the plan.
“You know, in life you have to be flexible,” Trump said, stating he would be open to “a new deal with solid foundations,” but not explaining whether such a deal would be negotiated in or outside of JCPOA.
“This is a deal with decayed foundations,” he said, declining to say what he would do on May 12, but joking that Macron already knew.
Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser John Bolton and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders joined Trump in their meetings.
Earlier in the day, Trump said before the press that the two men were “fairly close to understanding each other.”
The leaders had dinner at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate on Monday night, and were to enjoy a formal dinner with more than 100 guests in the State Dining Room of the White House on Tuesday night.
“WE’RE LOOKING forward to doing something, but it has to be done and it has to be done strongly,” Trump said.
“They’ve [the Iranians] very much been butchers, and we can’t allow that to happen.”
The president also responded to threats from Tehran that it would restart its nuclear program and abandon the UN Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty should the US scrap the accord next month.
“It won’t be so easy for them to restart it. They’re not going to be restarting anything. If they restart it, they’re going to have big problems, bigger than they ever had before. And you can mark it down,” he told reporters in the Oval Office, later repeating the threat: “They will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.”
The Iran deal was negotiated by the US, France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and Iran to provide sanctions relief to the Iranians in exchange for them halting their enrichment of uranium.
They partially dismantled the program, but retain an enrichment capacity and can increase its size and efficiency over time under the JCPOA’s terms.
The agreement also does not address Iran’s ballistic missiles, which are designed to be vehicles for nuclear warheads, as well as its regional behavior, which the US, Israel and the Arab world fear have been emboldened by the legitimacy and finances the nuclear deal bestowed.
Macron said he was prepared to acknowledge the deal does not address many of Trump's concerns– "France is not naive when it comes to Iran," he said– but proposed "combining" views on the deal that up until this point had been seen as in conflict.
"I believe we can both combine our common views and our differences, because we are not in a vacuum," he said. "I always said we should not tear apart the JCPOA and have nothing else... that would not be the good solution. But once we are placing ourselves in a momentum, the purpose of which is to put together a broad agreement covering the four topics I just mentioned, it's very different because, first of all, we take on board the concerns and the criticism of President Trump regarding this deal."
“It’s not about tearing up an agreement and having nothing,” he added, “but about building something new.”
Ending the civil war in Syria that began in March 2011 should be a part of this broader deal, Macron said. And indeed, Trump seemed open to this idea, which Macron has convinced him might require a continued US presence there.
“We want to leave a strong and lasting footprint ” in Syria, Trump said, while noting he would still love to withdraw completely. “We don’t want to give Iran open season to the Mediterranean.”
Trump continued to rip into the nuclear accord as one of the worst agreements ever negotiated on behalf of the United States, insisting that Iran’s nuclear work is inextricably tied to its regional designs.
“That regime must end its support of terrorism,” he said. “All over, no matter where you go in the Middle East, you see the fingerprints of Iran behind problems.”