Aug 27, 2019

Macron sticks the landing at G7 as Trump takes softer line on Iran

Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

The G7 summit began with a sense of impending doom and included a twist in the form of a surprise guest, but ended with smiles and a delicate breakthrough — President Trump may now be on course to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Driving the news: French President Emmanuel Macron, the host, revealed during a joint press conference with Trump today that he has been working to broker such a meeting. That explained his decision to invite Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Biarritz, a move that raised eyebrows around the world yesterday.

The big picture: Trump has long wanted to meet Rouhani, but Iranian officials have rejected the idea on grounds that the U.S. is waging "economic warfare" against them.

  • Macron said he told Zarif yesterday that a deal can be made if Iran agrees to a meeting. He touted Rouhani’s statement today that he would be willing to meet with an “individual" if it was in Iran’s interest.
  • Macron said the idea to invite Zarif came after Saturday's dinner with the other leaders, and he added that he informed — but did not ask — Trump before issuing the invitation.

Flashback: Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last May, calling it the worst deal in history. Macron has led the remaining signatories in attempting to salvage the deal.

  • Iran's patience is growing thin amid suffocating U.S. sanctions, and it has begun to creep outside the deal's obligations.
  • Macron has clashed vigorously with Trump on the issue, but was conciliatory today. He said he and Trump share the same objectives — to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and to avoid further escalation in the Gulf.

There are obstacles to a meeting on both sides, though.

  • Rouhani answers to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has previously ruled out negotiations with the U.S.
  • Trump’s administration is stocked with Iran hawks who are more wary than the president of breaking from the “maximum pressure” approach.

But Trump was relatively concrete in terms of what was on the table.

  • He said he's not seeking regime change in Tehran, but instead wants a longer-term nuclear deal that includes increased surveillance and also covers ballistic missiles.
  • Trump said he’d be willing to offer a “letter of credit,” sourced from "numerous countries" and backed by oil, to help relieve Iran’s short-term crunch. In the meantime, he said, “they have to be good players" or risk "very violent force."
  • Macron sounded bullish, saying he hoped the meeting would take place within weeks and ultimately lead to a new nuclear deal.

What to watch: Macron dismounted the diplomatic tightrope with a hug and warm words from Trump. Afterward, Trump tweeted a video captioned: "THANK YOU FRANCE!"

  • It's a stark contrast with a year ago, when Trump lambasted Canada's Justin Trudeau as "dishonest and weak" upon exiting the G7.
  • We're a long way from a new Iran deal, though, and Macron knows from his history with Trump how ephemeral moments like this can be.
Other summit highlights
  • Trump claimed Russia was expelled from the G8 because “President Putin outsmarted President Obama,” blaming his predecessor for Russia’s invasion of Crimea and reiterating that he’d like to see Putin back at the table.
  • Trump was conspicuously absent from a meeting on climate change. He also continued to promote his property in Doral, Florida as the ideal venue for next year’s gathering, despite concerns that he'd personally profit from its selection.
  • Trump announced a trade deal "in principle" with Japan. The details could be ironed out by next month.
  • He praised Chinese President Xi Jinping as a "great leader" who wants a deal and will ultimately get one. Days earlier, he'd called Xi an "enemy" and said the U.S. would be "better off without" China.

The big picture: Macron was wise to rule out a joint statement in advance. The leaders didn’t collectively agree to much other than a fairly paltry sum to fight fires in the Amazon.

The bottom line: “It’s hard to think of a topic the US isn’t allergic to or doesn’t push back on now,” a senior European diplomat told the FT. “Or if there is agreement between the participants, it’s the lowest common denominator — at the level of ‘the sun rises and the sun sets.’”

Go deeper: Israel alarmed by possible U.S.-Iran talks.

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

More than 62,300 U.S. health care workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and at least 291 have died from the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday. COVID-19 had infected about 9,300 health professionals when the CDC gave its last update on April 17.

By the numbers: More than 98,900 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 384,900 Americans have recovered and more than 14.9 million tests have been conducted.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:00 p.m. ET: 5,589,626 — Total deaths: 350,453 — Total recoveries — 2,286,956Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:00 p.m. ET: 1,680,913 — Total deaths: 98,913 — Total recoveries: 384,902 — Total tested: 14,907,041Map.
  3. Federal response: DOJ investigates meatpacking industry over soaring beef pricesMike Pence's press secretary returns to work.
  4. Congress: House Republicans to sue Nancy Pelosi in effort to block proxy voting.
  5. Business: How the new workplace could leave parents behind.
  6. Tech: Twitter fact-checks Trump's tweets about mail-in voting for first timeGoogle to open offices July 6 for 10% of workers.
  7. Public health: Coronavirus antibodies could give "short-term immunity," CDC says, but more data is neededCDC releases guidance on when you can be around others after contracting the virus.
  8. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

There are no COVID-19 patients in hospital in New Zealand, which reported just 21 active cases after days of zero new infections. A top NZ health official said Tuesday he's "confident we have broken the chain of domestic transmission."

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Tuesday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.9 million tests).