France to host top Iran diplomat for nuclear talks Friday
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France to host top Iran diplomat for nuclear talks Friday

French official says Paris will propose easing of sanctions or compensation to Tehran at weekend gathering of G7 leaders to help rescue ailing atomic deal

French President Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of a meeting at The Elysee Palace in Paris on August 22, 2019. (Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of a meeting at The Elysee Palace in Paris on August 22, 2019. (Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP)

PARIS, France — French President Emmanuel Macron will on Friday hold talks on Iran’s contested nuclear program with Tehran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the French presidency said, in a rare bilateral encounter between a Western head of state and a senior Iranian official.

Macron will meet Zarif just one day before France chairs a three-day summit of leaders of Group of Seven (G7) countries, including US President Donald Trump, in the southern resort of Biarritz.

Zarif, who has been on a tour of Scandinavia, had earlier this week said he planned to hold talks in Paris.

The discussions between Zarif and Macron will come at a critical time for relations between Tehran and the West as Iran ramps up its nuclear program in response to Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 deal over its atomic drive and regional policies.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

France and other EU powers have insisted they want to keep the nuclear deal alive, although many analysts warn the US pullout dealt it a near-fatal blow.

Macron has insisted that diplomacy is the only way to solve the standoff and twice in the last months dispatched his diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne to Tehran.

A presidency official, who asked not to be named, said the talks would continue this channel.

Macron admitted in comments Wednesday there were “true disagreements” within the G7 over Iran but said he would “try to propose things” in the talks, such as a softening of sanctions or a compensation mechanism to offset the debilitating restrictions.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in New York, September 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/ Ludovic Marin)

The French foreign ministry said earlier this month that it “needs no permission” to talk to Iran after Trump accused Macron of sending “mixed signals” to the Islamic Republic.

Zarif said in Norway Thursday that Macron had made proposals to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who had dispatched him to Paris “to see if we can finalize some of these ideas so each party can fulfill its obligations” under the nuclear deal.

Speaking at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, he said proposals were “on the table, both from the French and the Iranian side,” Reuters reported.

“It will be a chance to see if we can find ground for understanding. We already have points of agreement,” Zarif said.

US Marines monitor an Iranian navy vessel from the USS John P. Murtha in the Strait of Hormuz, August 12, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert/Released)

Zarif also used his Scandinavia tour to warn the US against a planned multinational naval force that will patrol the Strait of Hormuz after multiple attacks on shipping blamed on Iran. Britain, Australia and Bahrain have announced in recent days they would join the force.

“It’s clear that the US’s intention… [to deploy a] naval presence in the Persian Gulf is to counter Iran…. Don’t expect us to remain quiet when somebody comes to our waters and threatens us,” Zarif said, according to Reuters.

The Iranian foreign minister was earlier this month slapped with sanctions by the United States. But the EU insisted it would continue to work with him.

Zarif’s talks in Paris may also see the case raised of French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, who was detained in Iran earlier this year and is one of many Western-Iranian dual nationals to be held behind bars there.

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