After proving a turbulent presence last year, U.S. President Donald Trump changed his tone, possibly attempting to ease tensions on the last day of the G7 summit.
This time around, the U.S. president said that he agreed to allow Iranian foreign minister to fly in to France for the gathering and insisted he was not seeking regime change in Tehran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is under U.S. sanctions, made a surprise appearance at the summit in Biarritz on Sunday for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron. Zarif also met with French and other European diplomats, but Trump said it was "too soon" for him to meet with him.
"I knew everything Macron was doing and I approved everything he was doing," Trump said, adding that the French president "asked for my approval." Macron's invitation was a bold gamble that he could secure a breakthrough in global tensions over Iran's nuclear program following Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal and impose new sanctions. In early August, Trump lambasted Macron for sending "mixed signals" on Iran, and at the end of July the U.S. administration imposed sanctions on Zarif.
Trump and Macron have something of a rivalry and U.S. officials were privately criticizing the organization of the summit, though Trump himself stuck to flattery and diplomacy. "Thus far, this has been really a great G7. And I want to congratulate France," Trump said, even as leaks from the White House suggested that he was unhappy.
Tensions over Iran, Russia, the U.S. trade war with China and the faltering global economy dominated the three day summit, which Trump and Macron finished with a joint news conference. The other leaders of the G7 countries, which include Germany, Britain, Canada, Italy and Japan, have downplayed their differences with Trump, known for his short fuse and skepticism of international cooperation. It was not clear when precisely Macron extended the invitation to Zarif or when he informed the others that the Iranian was on his way.
During his time in office, Trump has repeatedly disrupted the norms of the West and upended agreements, such as the Paris climate protocols. He has also threatened to increase tariffs on European cars and French wine. His recent feuds with Europe, including a recent disagreement with NATO ally Denmark over buying Greenland, appear to indicate he could not create the necessary international balance against his Asian rival, China. Considering fraying bonds between Western allies, Trump's political credo is based on an "America First" policy that for critics is at odds with the U.S. membership in NATO and its historic partnership with Europe. Trump's recurring demand that countries devote an amount equal to at least 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) to defense spending has become the biggest source of internal strain. In May 2017, Trump made a memorable impression on leaders from Canada and European nations during his first NATO summit. During a speech outside NATO's new Brussels headquarters, he publicly humiliated them. Trump also cast doubt on whether they could count on Washington to fulfill NATO's collective defense clause. Trump also delayed a summit last year with fresh demands on burden sharing.
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