Trump blindsided by surprise G7 guest
Everything was going so well for Donald Trump.
The US President was shaking hands with good friends, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and kissing allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But Mr Trump's time at the G7 leaders summit in France took an unexpected turn when Iran walked in.
Tensions have reached boiling point between Washington and Tehran after the US pulled out of a 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.
Iran did not take the move lying down. The country responded by attacking oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz - a waterway through which 20 per cent of the world's oil passes.
World leaders, fearing the conflict could trigger a regional war, appear to have attempted a Hail Mary of sorts; a forced intervention that Mr Trump did not see coming.
France, which is hosting the summit in the coastal resort town of Biarritz, did what nobody expected them to do and invited Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the meeting.
Mr Zarif flew in for close talks with French President Emmanuel Macron that attempted to bridge the gap between the feuding nations.
"Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying," Mr Zarif tweeted after flying back to Tehran. He did not meet with Mr Trump.
But he appeared to troll the US president by posting pictures of his meetings with Mr Macron.
"Despite US efforts to destroy diplomacy, met with French President @EmmanuelMacron
and @JY_LeDriane in Paris today," he tweeted.
Despite US efforts to destroy diplomacy, met with French President @EmmanuelMacron and @JY_LeDriane in Paris today.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) August 23, 2019
Interviewed with Euronews, AFP, & France24.
Multilateralism must be preserved.
Next stops Beijing, Tokyo & KL after a day in Tehran. pic.twitter.com/xfBN66SBly
The move caught the White House off guard. In a TV interview, Mr Macron said several world leaders had "agreed on a joint communication and a course of action which reconciles the different positions".
But when Mr Trump was asked if he knew anything about the strategic move on behalf of G7 attendees, he was unequivocal.
"No, I haven't discussed it."
The move surprised Australia, too.
"No, I wasn't aware of it," Mr Morrison told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.
He refused to comment on whether he approved of the decision by the French to include Iran in discussions.
"I haven't reflected on it or offered any comment on it at all."
Last month, Mr Trump appeared critical of French attempts to play peacemaker, tweeting: "I know Emmanuel means well, as do all others, but nobody speaks for the United States but the United States itself."
A French official said the discussions between Mr Macron and Mr Zarif were "positive and will continue" but refused to take detailed questions on the matter.
Since pulling Washington out of the deal last year, Mr Trump has pushed a maximum pressure policy to try to force Iran into a new negotiation that would include its ballistic missile program and regional activities.
Mr Trump's European allies also want new talks with Iran but they believe the nuclear deal must be upheld.
There’s no way Macron invites Iran FM Zarif to G7 without a heads up to Trump first.— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) August 25, 2019
Trump is looking to open direct negotiations. The Swiss and Japanese have given it a shot. France now trying too.
Right — there’s Macron’s view and then the view that Iran is a terrorism-supporting regime that shouldn’t be elevated to score a PR point against Trump. Two views. Heck, there may be even more.— Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) August 25, 2019
Mr Macron, who has taken the lead in Europe in trying to salvage the agreement and avert a deeper crisis in the Middle East, had already met Mr Zarif in Paris on Friday.
They discussed proposals to de-escalate tensions between Washington and Tehran, including easing some US sanctions or providing Iran with an economic compensation mechanism to make up for oil revenues lost under US sanctions.
But despite Mr Macron spending two hours with Mr Trump over lunch on Saturday and all seven leaders discussing Iran at length in the evening, it did not appear that the US leader had budged on easing oil sanctions.
A European diplomat familiar with the discussions said the leaders had failed at the dinner to persuade Mr Trump.
Mr Morrison, who met with Mr Trump behind closed doors, discussed trade and Australia's plans to join an international mission in the waters south of Iran.
But the Prime Minister was as surprised as the rest of the leaders when Iran's foreign minister joined the gathering.
He explained Australia's decision of last Wednesday to contribute troops, a surveillance plane and a Navy frigate to the US-led effort to protect shipping lanes from Iran during meetings with Chancellor Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"(They had) a great respect for the way that Australia thinks through these issues and is very clear about how we pursue our national interests and do so in a way which is very, very well-targeted," Mr Morrison told reporters in Biarritz.
"We're very clear about what this was about, what it wasn't about." He also spoke about Australia's contribution during a 20-minute meeting with Mr Trump.
- with wires