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Donald Trump ready to meet Iranian leader Rouhani, raising hopes of breakthrough

File photo: US President Donald Trump Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Biarritz, France Aug 26, 2019, 10.51 PM (IST)

US President Donald Trump said Monday he was prepared to meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani within weeks, after talks about Tehran's nuclear programme at the G7 summit in France.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had made a surprise appearance on the sidelines of the summit in Biarritz on Sunday at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron said the "conditions for a meeting" between Trump and Rouhani "in the next few weeks" had been created through intensive diplomacy and consultations.

"If the circumstances were correct, I would certainly agree to that," Trump said at a press conference with Macron at the end of three days of talks.

Asked if he thought the timeline proposed by his French counterpart was realistic, Trump replied, "It does", adding he thought Rouhani would also be in favour. 

"I think he's going to want to meet. I think Iran wants to get this situation straightened out," he added.

Watch: Trump was aware of Iran's FM's visit at G7

Trump has put in place a policy of "maximum pressure" on Tehran over its disputed nuclear programme via crippling sanctions that are seen as raising the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

The US president last year unilaterally pulled out of a landmark 2015 international deal that placed limits on Tehran's nuclear activities in exchange for trade, investment and sanctions relief.

'Real progress'

Macron has urged the US administration to offer some sort of relief to Iran, such as lifting sanctions on oil sales to China and India, and has raised the possibility of a new credit line to enable exports.

In return, Iran would return to complying with the 2015 deal.

Commenting on the talks about Iran at the G7, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "It's a big step forward. Now there is an atmosphere in which talks are welcomed." 

Macron and Trump hailed the common ground found by G7 leaders at their summit, which was dominated by the Iranian nuclear crisis, global trade tensions and fires in the Amazon.

"We have managed to find real points of convergence, unprecedented, very positive, that will allow us to go forward in a very useful way," Macron told the press conference.

Trump said Macron had done a "fantastic job" at the G7.

"This was a very special, a very unified two and a half days and I want to thank you," Trump told his host.

Just a few weeks ago, Trump lambasted Macron for sending "mixed signals" on Iran, and at the end of July the US administration imposed sanctions on Zarif.

Macron acknowledged there had been "nervousness" ahead of the summit because of tensions between the US and Europe on a host of issues.

Trade war worries

Commenting on his escalating trade war with China, Trump held out hope of a deal to thaw the bruising year-long dispute that has seen tariffs imposed on billions of dollars' worth of goods by both sides.

"I can say we are having very meaningful talks, much more meaningful, I would say, than at any time," he had said at a press conference with Merkel.

Trump said senior Chinese officials had been in contact.

"I'm not sure they have a choice (on making a deal)," he said. "I don't mean that as a threat. I don't think they have a choice." 

There was no detail from China about the talks Trump referred to.

Trump arrived in the famed surfing town of Biarritz on Saturday shortly after upping the ante with a new round of increased tariffs on Chinese goods.

European leaders have lined up to urge caution and warn about the danger of recession from the conflict.

Amazon help

On the final day of the summit, the G7 agenda also included action to help fight fires destroying swaths of the Amazon.

The members agreed to spend $20 million (18 million euros) on the world's biggest rainforest, mainly to send firefighting aircraft to tackle blazes.

Trump was less vocal on this issue than his partners. 

He also stood out from the rest of the G7 leaders in his budding friendship with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army officer who has given freer rein to industrial farmers and loggers who have made the country an agribusiness power -- at a huge cost to the environment.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged £10 million ($12.3 million) to help Amazon reforestation efforts, including in areas hit by the fires.

Macron has threatened to block an extensive new trade deal between the European Union and Latin America unless Bolsonaro takes serious steps to combat global warming.

Bolsonaro, who on Sunday appeared to endorse a disparaging remark about Macron's wife on Facebook, has denounced the French leader's alleged "colonialist mentality".

Story highlights

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had made a surprise appearance on the sidelines of the summit in Biarritz on Sunday at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron.