Yesterday, I wrote about what I called “Macron’s stunt” — the high-level meeting between French and Iranian officials that occurred while France was hosting the G-7 conference. I viewed the meeting as an affront to President Trump. Not because Trump doesn’t want France and Iran to talk, but because holding talks in the midst of the summit, and without Trump’s prior approval, seemed like grandstanding and an attempt to show up the American president.
On Sunday, Trump seemed displeased about the meeting. When asked about it, he responded with a rare (for him) “no comment.”
Today, though, the two presidents — Trump and Macron — held a joint press conference in which they resumed their earlier roles as buddies. There was praise all around, along with handshakes and hugs. The two were the very picture of harmony.
Pinned down by what he called “a very precise question,” Macron said that bringing in Iran’s foreign minister for talks was his initiative and that he did not seek approval from Trump. However, he insisted that he informed Trump of the meeting in advance and kept him posted throughout. Trump did not dispute this.
If Trump was vexed about the meeting with Iran, he certainly didn’t show it today. It’s possible that Trump was less than pleased with how the France-Iran meeting went down, but is more concerned with presenting a picture of a unified G-7. However, experience tells us that if Trump had a major problem with the visit of Iran’s foreign minister, he probably would not have concealed it.
Trump has made it clear that he would like to negotiate with Iran in order to substantially improve the deal President Obama made with the mullahs. If France can help bring Iran to the negotiating table, I’m pretty sure that would be fine with Trump.
I’m also pretty sure Trump believes that if there’s a deal to be had, he doesn’t need Macron’s help to make it happen. But if it makes Macron feel good to believe he has a useful role to play, that’s no skin off Trump’s back.
What would such a deal look like? Trump said Iran needs to agree to a much longer time period of nuclear restraint. Many of the restrictions on developing nukes contained in the current deal expire in 2026. Trump is radically dissatisfied with this time table, as he should be.
Trump also said Iran must permit a significantly more stringent inspection regime than the one contained in the present agreement. In exchange, sanctions would be lifted.
During the press conference, Macron spoke of “compensation” to Iran. But Trump made it clear there will be no cash payment. The U.S. would agree only to lift sanctions once again and perhaps to extend Iran some credit, secured by its oil, to offset the nation’s economic crisis.
I suspect that Macron would like the U.S. to take a softer position than the one Trump outlined. I also suspect that Macron’s desires count for nothing with Trump. In fact, I’m confident they don’t.
Trump knows what he wants from the mullahs, and he’s unlikely to settle for less. In the meantime, though, he apparently isn’t bothered much by Macron’s attempts to appear relevant.