Although it’s hard to imagine Emmanuel Macron didn’t give the US delegation any prior warning that the French government intended to invite Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Biarritz during what was already a contentious G-7, initial media reports suggested his presence took a number of countries’ representatives off guard.
As mentioned earlier, Zarif flew to Biarritz on Sunday for what the French said were meetings with the French foreign minister, who, on behalf of Macron, is attempting to deescalate tensions between Tehran and the West.
Zarif is, of course, sanctioned by the US. During a trip to New York in July, he granted interviews with multiple media outlets in an effort to explain Iran’s position as tensions flared in the Strait of Hormuz amid tit-for-tat escalations that nearly culminated in US strikes against missile batteries and other facilities in late June.
Around the same time, rumors were flying about the possibility that Senator Rand Paul might play a critical role as a mediator between Trump and the Iranians, but those rumors, along with reports that Zarif had made an overture to the White House, were overshadowed by the US Navy’s decision to shoot down an Iranian drone.
Since then, maritime tensions have escalated, and the Trump administration wasn’t amused earlier this month when Gibraltar rebuffed US demands to permanently seize an Iranian oil tanker which was originally detained in July with the help of British special forces.
According to White House officials, Zarif’s presence in Biarritz on Sunday was indeed a “surprise” to the US delegation, which had no immediate plans to meet with him.
Macron spoke with Zarif on Friday, and as Reuters notes, “Iran wants to export a minimum of 700,000 barrels per day of its oil and ideally up to 1.5 million bpd if the West wants to negotiate with Tehran to save the 2015 deal”. That’s according to a pair of Iranian officials and one diplomat.
Iran’s oil exports have obviously been crippled by US sanctions, and a bid by the European powers to get a special purpose vehicle (Instex) designed to facilitate trade with Tehran up and running has been bedeviled by US threats and skepticism from Iran that the SPV cannot process large crude transactions.
Macron, meanwhile, has spearheaded efforts to get things back on track.
On Sunday, he boasted of what Paris is describing as a joint message from the G-7 to the Iranians. “We’ve enacted a common communication, which in my view has a lot of value”, he told French television.
Trump wasn’t enamored. “We’ll do our own outreach”, the US president snapped. “But I can’t stop people from talking”.