You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

News: Homepage News Stripe

How Macron Pulled a Fast One on G-7 Leaders With Gamble on Iran

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 8/26/2019 Ian Wishart, Josh Wingrove and Arne Delfs
French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump chat during the family photo session with invited guests at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/Pool © Thomson Reuters French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump chat during the family photo session with invited guests at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/Pool

(Bloomberg) -- In a break in summit talks on Sunday afternoon, cameras caught British Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulating his French host on his handling of a tense dinner the night before.

“Well played,” Johnson told Emmanuel Macron, breaking, momentarily, into French. Conversations between U.S. President Donald Trump and other Group of Seven leaders had grown heated around the issues of Iran and particularly Russia.

"You did very well last night," Johnson went on. "My God, that was a difficult one."

Macron’s response: “I’m not finished...”

In fact, the 41-year-old president was just getting started. His shock tactics to reinvent the tired old G-7 format were beginning to wear on his colleagues, and that was even before they discovered what was headed their way (literally). But one, key actor had been let in on the secret.

Incoming Aircraft

As lunch was wrapping up, reporters and advisers in Biarritz began tracking a plane on the Flightradar app that was approaching the town’s closed airport. Iran’s green, white and red flag was emblazoned on the jet’s blue tailwing.

Onboard, was Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Iran has divided the G-7 ever since Trump pulled out of a nuclear deal with the country in 2018. European countries want to salvage the agreement but the U.S. president is holding firm. Zarif himself is under U.S. sanctions and had his movements heavily restricted during a recent visit to New York.

Barack Obama’s team choreographed his movements around the United Nations headquarters in 2009 to avoid a chance run-in with the Iranians. Bringing Zarif to the same beach resort as Trump looked like a highly provocative move given the U.S. administration’s hostility to the Iranian regime.

“This is completely disrespectful to @realDonaldTrump and the other leaders at the G-7," Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the UN said in a tweet. "Iran supports terrorism at every turn and continues to pursue ’Death to America.’ Manipulative of Macron to do this and very insincere."

Typical Stunt

In the corridors of the summit, aides reacted with a mixture of disdain and frustration. It was a typical Macron stunt, a G-7 official said.

But Trump was calm.

"President Macron asked my approval," Trump told reporters in Monday morning. "I don’t consider that disrespectful at all."

As French TV showed the Iranian motorcade heading into the town center, Macron played it straight at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on African development and refused to take questions on any other subject.

Brigitte Macron, the president’s closest confidante through his dizzying rise to power, had taken Melania Trump and the other leaders’ partners to sample sangria. “Just an advice," she warned them playfully, "don’t drink too much.”

But on a terrace outside the summit venue, Macron’s advisers were smoking one cigarette after another, looking out across the empty beach -- cleared of tourists for security reasons. One said that he’d kicked his habit before he joined Macron’s team, but he’d started again under the pressure of the French president’s high-wire diplomacy.

Blindsided

One person familiar with Macron’s plans said the idea started to take shape on Friday after a fruitful meeting with Zarif in Paris.

When Trump arrived in Biarritz on Saturday, Macron grabbed him for an impromptu lunch and pitched him with a plan for lowering the tensions over Iran -- the Tehran government would be allowed to export more oil if it returned to compliance with the nuclear accord and joined formal talks.

That private conversation was one opportunity when Macron would have been able to let the U.S. leader in on his plan.

Even so, trouble was brewing between the U.S. delegation and their hosts. The U.S. had bristled at the focus on climate and White House aides said they thought the French were deliberately manipulating the agenda to embarrass their boss.

Certainly, the European leaders were kept out of the loop until the last minute.

The Italians found out from French news wire AFP, while Merkel later said she was “well informed” but “just in time.” The U.K. also found out around lunchtime Sunday. Merkel said that Macron had decided to take the leap after what both Trump and Johnson called a "lively” discussion at the Lighthouse gala dinner.

Those exchanges over more than three hours were the turning point. It was when Macron seemed to have thought he had secured an agreement to take the initiative on Iran on behalf of the entire club.

Sunday morning saw more friction with Trump. Macron told reporters he had the backing of the G-7 to deliver a joint message to Iran. Trump said, “We’ll do our own outreach."

500 Meters Away

Whatever the substance of the Saturday night agreement, most officials were surprised to see Macron move so fast, and so far.

By Sunday afternoon, Zarif was installed in the mayor of Biarritz’s office for three hours of meetings with officials from France, Germany and the U.K. -- including a brief greeting with Macron himself.

But the flash point many were expecting never materialized. Trump retreated to his room in the Hotel du Palais, just 500 meters away and didn’t reemerge until Zarif had left. You could almost pretend that the past six hours had never happened.

By the time Zarif was wheels up, Trump still hadn’t tweeted a single thing about his visit and heading out to enjoy another dinner with the rest of the leaders.

--With assistance from Helene Fouquet and Jennifer Jacobs.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ian Wishart in Biarritz, France at iwishart@bloomberg.net;Josh Wingrove in Biarritz, France at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net;Arne Delfs in Biarritz, France at adelfs@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

AdChoices
AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon