By Justin Sink and Helene Fouquet
French President Emmanuel Macron said he wants to negotiate a new agreement with Iran that would curb its development of ballistic missiles and contain its involvement in regional wars, in addition to halting its nuclear program.
Macron’s remarks, at a White House news conference with President Donald Trump, came after Trump earlier warned Iran not to restart its nuclear program even if the U.S. withdraws from the 2015 nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic. One of Macron’s priorities for the state visit to the U.S. this week is to persuade Trump to remain in the agreement but add to it.
“I have said for several months it’s not a sufficient accord,” Macron said through a translator. “We want a new accord with Iran.”
He later said in response to a question that the 2015 agreement “is the first pillar of the framework I’ve just described. I’m not saying we’re moving from one deal to another. I’m saying it’s one aspect of the problem.”
Macron said an additional Iran agreement should curb the country’s nuclear activities beyond 2025, end its ballistic missile program and contain Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region.
“It’s not about tearing something apart, it’s about building something new that will cover all of our concerns,” Macron said.
Trump began the state visit on Tuesday by saying in the Oval Office that the Iran deal was “insane, ridiculous, should never have been made.”
The U.S. president also threatened Iran if it resumes its nuclear program, even if the international accord collapses and U.S. sanctions are re-enacted. “If they restart their nuclear program, they’re going to have bigger problems than ever before,” Trump said.
Macron’s office later issued a statement characterizing Trump’s remarks as “‘the expression of strong positions.”
“We knew the topic was sensitive and was among the priorities of this state visit,” the statement said. It added that France would defend its and Europe’s positions on the Iran nuclear agreement, “which are — we believe — not incompatible with the U.S. concerns.”
Officials at Iran’s Mission to the United Nations didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Macron’s proposal.
May 12 Deadline
Trump plans to announce by a May 12 deadline whether or not the U.S. will remain in the multi-nation Iran nuclear deal reached in 2015. If the U.S. withdraws, Iran could accelerate its nuclear program or consider actions such as leaving the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. European leaders including Macron are seeking to convince Trump the world is safer with the deal than without it.
After meeting with Macron, Trump said the two leaders “really had some substantive talks on Iran, maybe more than anything else.”
The State Department has been negotiating with European allies on side agreements to the Iran deal that could address the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program and its involvement in regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Iran has not indicated that it would sign onto any such agreement, however.
“We’re looking forward to doing something but it has to be done, and it has to be done strongly, and they’ve very much been butchers and we can’t allow that to happen,” Trump said of the nuclear agreement and Iran. “So we understand each other and we’ll see how that comes out. And we could have at least an agreement among ourselves fairly quickly. I think we’re fairly close to understanding each other.”
No European leader has a better relationship with the president, and Macron hopes to tap that goodwill to persuade Trump not to abandon an international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program. He wasn’t able to keep the U.S. president from backing out of the Paris climate accord, but has nonetheless urged Trump to stick to American commitments to reduce carbon pollution.
Earlier, Macron urged the president to consider the nuclear deal “in a wider regional context,” including the situation in Syria, where the U.S., France and the U.K. recently launched a joint strike to retaliate against the regime’s use of chemical weapons on rebels.
“We have a common objective,” Macron said. “We want to make sure there’s no escalation and no nuclear proliferation in the region. We now need to find the right path forward.”
Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May have spent months coordinating with one another on the potential side agreements, which they hope will convince Trump to remain part of the agreement. They’ve discussed broader foreign policy arguments that could convince Trump it’s in the U.S.’s interest to remain in the accord, as well as personal appeals to the president.
The state visit officially began Tuesday morning, with a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House featuring 500 members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, military families and students from a French immersion school in Maryland were invited to attend.
Macron took the occasion to urge Trump to maintain past U.S. commitments to joint action with allies.
“It is together that we can resist the rise of aggressive nationalisms that deny our history and divide the world,” Macron said in French, according to a translation. “It is together that we will build a new, strong multilateralism that defends pluralism and democracy in the face of ill winds.”
“We do not always agree on the solutions,” Macron said of climate change. “But it is also where the fate of our children is at stake.”
Trump welcomed Macron by celebrating “the wonderful friendship we have developed over the past year” which he said “is a testament to the enduring friendship” between the U.S. and France.
He predicted that Macron “is going to be a great president of France.”
Trump is delivering Macron the most lavish welcome for a foreign leader of his presidency so far, including his first state dinner. The fanfare is intended to rival Trump’s reception in France last year, where he attended Bastille Day celebrations and was feted with a military parade along the Champs-Élysées and dinner at the Eiffel Tower.
On Monday evening, Trump, Macron and their wives toured Washington’s monuments in the Marine One helicopter and landed at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, for a dinner.
The two leaders will hold a series of meetings Tuesday morning and a news conference ahead of dinner at the White House.
The state dinner Tuesday night will feature American food with French influences, including goat cheese gateau, rack of spring lamb, Carolina Gold rice jambalaya, and a nectarine tart and creme fraiche ice cream.