Iran made a brief and unannounced visit to the G7 summit in France

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Iran’s top diplomat has held talks with France’s President Emmanuel Macron at the sidelines of the G7 summit following a surprise invite to the gathering.

Mohammad Javad Zarif landed on Sunday in the French seaside town of Biarritz, where leaders of the G7 nations – the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Itly and Japan – were meeting to discuss a host of issues, including global trade, climate change and Iran’s nuclear programme. Zarif immediately went into a three-and-a-half-hour meeting with French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, according to Reuters news agency. He spent half an hour with Macron.

G7 summit

“Iran’s active diplomacy in pursuit of constructive engagement continues,” Zarif said in a post on social media. “Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying.” Mr Macron has taken an active role in trying to diffuse tensions and save the accord – but Iran’s relations with the West have strained further in recent months over a series of confrontations and oil tanker seizures in and around the Gulf.

Surprise invite

Macron decided to invite the Iranian foreign minister to Biarritz after hosting a dinner of G7 leaders on Saturday night, a French official told AFP. The invite had been made “in agreement with the United States”, the official added, contradicting a claim by the White House that Trump  had not been informed of Zarif’s arrival. Macron had also hosted Zarif for talks in Paris on the eve of the summit on Friday.

The French president is urging Trump to offer some sort of relief to Iran, according to Reuters and AFP, such as lifting sanctions on oil sales to China and India, or a new credit line to enable exports. While the nuclear deal’s remaining signatories – France, Germany, UK, China and Russia – oppose the US move, they have struggled to protect Iran from the US sanctions.

G7 summit

Trump wants to force Iran into new talks that would include its ballistic missile programme and support for regional armed groups. But Iran has rejected that, saying Washington could not be trusted. And a year after the US exit, Tehran began scaling back some of its commitments under the nuclear accord. In July, Washington imposed sanctions specifically on Zarif, blocking any property or interest he had in the US. Zarif said he had none. US officials said the censure was meant to send a “clear message” to Iran as tensions further escalated over alleged aggressions in the Strait of Hormuz, a significant trade route in the Gulf. Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Tehran, said Zarif’s visit to the G7 summit highlighted hunger from Iranian politicians – in particular, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani – to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord.

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