French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday proposed a new nuclear accord with Iran, an apparent attempt by the youthful European leader to keep the existing pact in place while assuaging President Donald Trump’s concerns.
Macron made the announcement after several hours of private meetings earlier in the day with the U.S. president at the White House. His call for a new deal came hours after Trump slammed the existing Obama-era pact, calling it “terrible” and “insane” and “ridiculous” while saying it fails to address Iran’s missile program or activities in the region.
That proved a bit of foreshadowing, as Macron later pitched a new pact that would keep the so-called P5+1 pact in place while seeking a new deal with Tehran to curtail Iranian nuclear activity by 2025, end Iran’s ballistic missile activities, and seek a “political solution” to “contain Iran in the region.”
Macron, during a joint press conference in the East Room, noted Trump long has called the nuclear pact “a bad deal,” and said he views it as “not a sufficient deal.” He then announced his desire to “work on a new deal.”
“I think we’ll have a shot at doing a … fairly bigger deal,” the U.S. president said.
If the U.S. chief executive does not like Macron’s idea, he did not let it show. At one point, he gave the French leader something approximating a high five-handshake. At another he declared, “I like him a lot.” And at yet another he predicted Macron will go down as “one of the great presidents” in French history.
As they left the ornate room, Macron gave Trump a forceful slap on his back.
Trump spent much of Tuesday lambasting the deal the Obama administration and other world leaders negotiated with Iranian leaders over its nuclear arms ambitions. He also, during an earlier appearance with Macron in the Oval Office, issued a threat to Iranian leaders if the existing agreement collapses and they re-start their program.
“If they restart their nuclear program they will have bigger problems than they ever had before,” he said.
Macron’s announcement seemed geared in large part toward his American counterpart’s criticism of then-Secretary of State John Kerry for opting to keep his negotiations with Iranian leaders focused only on its atomic weapons program.
“It just seems that no matter where you go, especially in the Middle East, Iran is behind it, wherever there’s trouble, Yemen, Syria, no matter where you have it, Iran is behind it,” he said. “And now unfortunately, Russia is getting more and more involved. But Iran seems behind everything where there’s a problem. And we just have to take a look.”
Russia has proved to be a thorn in the last two U.S. presidents’ sides on Syria. And under the Macron’s proposal, Moscow could become one as part of any new talks with Iran.
That’s because Macron said he wants to expand the number of countries seeking a new Iran deal to include countries in the Middle East, Russia and Turkey.
The proposed new round of talks with Tehran appears to be Macron’s attempt to keep the existing Iran deal intact — even if Trump pulls out — while trying to convince him to help broker a new one.
“On Iran, they’ve been trying to assuage President Trump’s concerns for some time. President Macron has been trying to come up with a way to fix some of the deal’s flaws,” said Garret Martin, a professor at American University.
Jeff Lightfoot of the Atlantic Council said Monday that Macron’s message to Trump would be that the current pact would have to remain in place one way or another because “we just don’t see a way to deal with this outside of the nuclear accord.”
Now Macron wants to do just that, and build on it with Trump’s input. Notably, while the U.S. commander in chief had plenty to say against the Iran deal, he did not take a position on whether he will soon withdraw the United States.
The future of the pact also is expected to be a major part of the French leader’s remarks Wednesday to a joint session of Congress.
The U.S. president was in a direct and frank mood Tuesday — even by his standards — telling a reporter in the Oval Office it was a “stupid question” when asked if he would pardon his personal attorney, whose office was raided earlier this month by federal authorities and reams of information confiscated.
During the press conference, he also left open the door to withdrawing the nomination of his military doctor, Ronny Jackson, to lead the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs. The Navy rear admiral is facing allegations of drinking during working hours and fostering a hostile workplace.
Oddly, the president said he will — at least for now — leave the decision on whether Jackson’s nomination goes forward to Jackson. “I’ll always stand behind him,” the president said. “If I were him ... the fact is I wouldn’t do it. … I don’t want to put a man through a process like this — it’s too ugly and disgusting.”
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not say Jackson’s nomination should move forward. And Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said “it’s pretty easy to see that he wasn’t properly vetted” and labeled his nomination “on the rocks.”
Trump also vowed to bring all U.S. forces home from Syria “very soon” but with a major caveat: Not until he determines the main mission there — ending ISIS — is complete. “We’ll be coming home,” he said. “But we want to leave a very strong footprint.”
He also signaled there typically is little nuance when he tweets or speaks. Asked what he means when he demands North Korea to “denuclearize,” he responded matter-of-factly: “I want them to give up their nukes.”