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Zarif. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

While Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was making his way to France for a surprise visit at the G7 summit on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his team scrambled to make sure President Trump wouldn’t meet with him, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.

Netanyahu frantically tried to get President Trump on the phone — who was in back-to-back meetings and couldn’t take the call — while his office contacted multiple senior Trump administration officials, trying to connect the two leaders.

Between the lines: The Israelis were worried that Trump — who loves making a deal and relishes the drama of an unconventional meeting (think Kim Jong-un) — would let French President Emmanuel Macron talk him into holding an unscheduled meeting with Zarif.

  • The Israelis feared that a Zarif meeting could have made Trump more likely to agree to a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — leading to a showy summit and a long, open-ended diplomatic process that would take the pressure off of the Iranian regime.
  • Trump has made it clear he's willing to meet with the Iranians without preconditions, but his administration recently sanctioned Zarif and U.S. officials said a meeting with him would have been highly inappropriate.

Macron threw a curveball at the Americans — irritating some senior Trump administration officials — by inviting Zarif to Biarritz. And Trump, who usually sees little downside in meeting with foreign adversaries, appeared open enough to the idea that Israeli officials worried he might upend his carefully-planned schedule to meet with Zarif.

  • Trump administration officials said they viewed a Zarif meeting as ill-advised, both for policy reasons but also because Zarif is effectively a spokesperson with no real authority. They didn’t want to upend protocol and elevate him by seating him across the table from the president of the United States.

Why it matters: Netanyahu’s urgent attempts to get Trump on the phone showed the deep nervousness in Israel about possible renewed talks between the U.S. and Iran.

  • Netanyahu saw Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal as a signature foreign policy achievement — and one that remains essential to Israel’s security. Any loosening of Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran could create tension with America’s closest ally in the Middle East.
  • The White House and Netanyahu's office declined to comment.

Behind the scenes: On Friday morning, Macron met with Zarif in Paris. On Saturday evening, the leaders of the G7 discussed the Iranian issue over dinner, and Macron briefed the other leaders, including Trump, on his talks with Zarif.

  • Macron invited Zarif to Biarritz for more meetings on the sidelines of the G7 summit.
  • As Macron later explained at a press conference, his ultimate goal is to broker a meeting between Trump and Rouhani.
  • On Sunday, Netanyahu got word about Zarif’s planned drop-in at the G7 and was worried Trump or other senior U.S. officials might meet with the Iranian foreign minister, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. Netanyahu asked to schedule a phone call with Trump right away.

The big picture: These events unfolded while a serious escalation took place at Israel’s northern border with Syria and Lebanon. Late Saturday night, Israel launched airstrikes into Syria, targeting an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps special unit that Israeli officials said was plotting drone attacks against Israeli targets.

  • A separate drone attack reportedly took place in Beirut on Sunday near Hezbollah headquarters. The Israeli government has remained tight-lipped about this attack.

Israeli officials said Netanyahu was dealing with the Iranian issue all day Sunday, and felt an urgent need to speak directly to Trump. U.S. officials described a fast-moving situation in which the Israelis were calling multiple members of the Trump administration. 

  • U.S. officials could not say how close Trump was to agreeing to a meeting with Zarif. Macron said at his press conference with Trump on Monday that he wanted to arrange a meeting between Zarif and a U.S. cabinet secretary.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wasn’t present at the G7 summit, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was there with Trump. Trump said on Monday that he told Macron he didn’t think the timing was right for a meeting with Zarif at the G7, but that he was open to meeting Rouhani another time.
  • Netanyahu ultimately spoke with Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo.

What we’re hearing: U.S. officials said Trump decided not to meet Zarif regardless of Netanyahu’s messages, and they told the Israelis of Trump’s decision on Sunday. They said when Trump finished his G7 meetings that day, administration officials asked the Israelis if they wanted to connect the call with Netanyahu, but there was no need because Trump had already decided not to hold the meeting.

  • Senior Israeli officials said that although Trump didn’t meet Zarif, they think direct talks between the U.S. and Iran are just a matter of time – and not a lot of time.
  • The Israeli officials said they are concerned that a meeting between Trump and Rouhani could take place as soon as the UN general assembly opens in New York at the end of September.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

CDC says fully vaccinated people can take fewer precautions

Photo: Filip Filipovic/Getty Images

People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can take fewer precautions in certain situations, including socializing indoors without masks when in the company of low-risk or other vaccinated individuals, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Monday.

Why it matters: Per the report, there's early evidence that suggests vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and are potentially less likely to transmit the virus to other people. At the time of its publication, the CDC said the guidance would apply to about 10% of Americans.