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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson urge Hassan Rouhani, Donald Trump to meet

Macron sought to broker a breakthrough between the U.S. and Iran when he hosted Group of Seven summit in France last month, winning verbal support from Trump for a proposal extending a $15 billion credit line to Tehran.

world Updated: Sep 25, 2019 07:06 IST
Gregory Viscusi, Robert Hutton, and Josh Wingrove
Gregory Viscusi, Robert Hutton, and Josh Wingrove
Bloomberg, New York
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron urged U.S. President  Donald Trump and Iranian President  Hassan Rouhani to meet as soon as possible.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron urged U.S. President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to meet as soon as possible. (REUTERS)
         

The leaders of France and the U.K. urged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Donald Trump to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in what appeared to be rapid-fire shuttle diplomacy aimed at easing tensions and possibly bringing the two leaders together.

French President Emmanuel Macron met separately with both Trump and Rouhani into the evening on Tuesday as he continued to press for negotiations between the two antagonists on his final day at the United Nations. It was his second meeting with Rouhani in 24 hours.

“If he leaves the country without meeting with President Trump this is a lost opportunity,” Macron said of Rouhani, according to comments provided by U.K. officials. “Because he will not come back in a few months. And President Trump will not go to Tehran so they have to meet now.”

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who met with Trump earlier on Tuesday, echoed his French counterpart’s remarks, saying, “I agree with Emmanuel. You need to be on the side of the swimming pool and jump at the same time.”

It wasn’t clear if Trump was encouraging the diplomatic overtures. Earlier in the day he said he had not yet agreed to meet with Iran. But a face-to-face meeting would be historic, the first in more than four decades between the leaders of the U.S. and Iran.

“They’re here, we’re here, but we have not agreed to that yet, but they would like to negotiate,’ Trump told reporters in New York. “And it would certainly make sense, but we have not agreed to that yet.” On Monday he said the U.S. didn’t need a mediator, saying “they know who to call.”

The White House declined further comment Tuesday about a potential meeting, or Macron’s efforts.

Macron sought to broker a breakthrough between the U.S. and Iran when he hosted the Group of Seven summit in France last month, winning verbal support from Trump for a proposal extending a $15 billion credit line to Tehran. But then no agreement was reached.

In his speech to the UN on Tuesday morning, the U.S. leader said Iran had “blood lust,” was fueling wars in Syria and Yemen and squandering its wealth in a “fanatical quest for nuclear weapons.” But Trump also offered the country an olive branch, saying he is still open to talks with Iranian leaders. “The United States has never believed in permanent enemies,” he said.

Trump’s remarks on Iran follow escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran over an attack this month on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. The U.S. has blamed Iran, and Trump strengthened sanctions against the country and moved to bolster U.S., Saudi and U.A.E. forces. Iran rejected accusations it was behind the strike and has warned of “all-out war” if attacked by Saudi Arabia or the U.S.

Rouhani earlier said talks with the U.S. would still be possible under two conditions that the U.S. has been reluctant to agree to. The Iranian leader, speaking Tuesday morning to New York editors, said the U.S. must return to talks with Iran and the other five partners in the 2015 nuclear agreement. And, Rouhani said, the U.S. must end “illegal” sanctions Trump has ramped up on the Islamic Republic since abandoning the accord.

Unscheduled Meeting

To bridge the divide, Macron met with Rouhani late Monday night for almost two hours, with French officials providing few details afterward beyond expressing their concern that the window of opportunity for talks during the annual UN General Assembly was narrowing. Macron’s meeting Tuesday with Trump was held without any journalists present, and Macron’s subsequent meeting with Rouhani at another location wasn’t on any official schedule.

In his speech to the General Assembly Tuesday, Macron had laid out conditions for scaling back tensions in the Persian Gulf that including Iran agreeing to talk about its ballistic missile program and security in the region, with sanctions being rolled back afterward.

Macron said his goal on Tuesday evening is “to be a mediating power” and “to play a useful role.”

“France is neither Iran nor the U.S., we have done what we could to create the conditions, it is now up to the others,” he added.

France, the U.K. and Germany have led efforts to keep the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, known as the JCPOA, alive after Trump quit the accord last year. But on Monday the three European nations issued a statement raising the pressure on Tehran by blaming it for an attack on Saudi oil facilities and saying Rouhani’s government should agree to talks that would go beyond the JCPOA by including Iran’s ballistic missile program.

‘Accept Negotiations’

Talks between the U.S. and Iran appeared more likely a few weeks ago before that Saudi attack. That incident, which caused a surge in oil prices and renewed fears of military conflict, appear to have shifted the calculation in European capitals.

“The moment has come for Iran to accept negotiations on a long-term framework on its nuclear program as well as on regional security, including its ballistic missiles,” according to a statement from the three nations, which didn’t repeat their past criticism of Trump for quitting the 2015 deal.

--With assistance from David Wainer.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gregory Viscusi in New York at gviscusi@bloomberg.net;Robert Hutton in New York at rhutton1@bloomberg.net;Josh Wingrove in New York at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, Chelsea Mes

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