WASHINGTON — French President Emmanuel Macron told the US Congress Wednesday that Iran will “never” be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, as the fate of a landmark 2015 accord with Tehran hangs in the balance.
“Our objective is clear,” Macron told lawmakers on the final day of a state visit during which he and US President Donald Trump called for a broader “deal” that would also limit Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for militant groups across the Middle East.
“Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons. Not now. Not in five years. Not in 10 years. Never,” Macron said.
But the 40-year-old French leader also advocated for striking another deal with Tehran to address the concerns Trump outlined with the agreement made by the Obama administration with P5+1 powers in July 2015.
Speaking before a joint session of Congress, Macron firmly told the chamber, “France will not leave the JCPOA, because we signed it.”
“It is true to say that this agreement may not address all concerns, and very important concerns,” he went on. “This is true. But we should not abandon it without having something substantial and more substantial instead. That’s my position.”
Instead, the French leader proposed a new agreement that tackle “four pillars” to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and destabilizing regional activities.
He described those pillars as the substance of the existing agreement, including the sunset clauses that allow certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to expire over time, the containment of Tehran’s military influence in the region and the monitoring of its ballistic missile program.
“I think we have to start working now on these four pillars to build this new comprehensive deal,” Macron said.
On Tuesday, Trump warned Iran against reconstituting its nuclear program if the United States exits the landmark agreement, as it has threatened to do. “If they restart their nuclear program, they will have bigger problems than they ever had before,” Trump said.
In January, Trump kept the deal alive by waiving sanctions against Iran as required by the pact every six months. But he said flatly it would be the last time he did that unless serious changes were made to the accord.
He specifically called for three major changes: amending the sunset clauses, banning Iran’s capacity to test ballistic missiles, which are currently in violation of UN resolutions but not the nuclear deal, and granting inspectors greater access to Iran’s military sites.
These demands were issued as an ultimatum to Congress and America’s European allies. Trump said that if these alterations were not struck by May 12, the next deadline to waive sanctions, he would walk away from the nuclear deal.
With that deadline mere weeks away, Macron has seemingly sought to find a middle ground with Trump.
“Your president and your country will have to take in the current days and current weeks its own responsibilities regarding this issue,” he told members of Congress Wednesday. “But what I want to do and what we decided together with your president is that we can work on a more comprehensive deal addressing all these concerns.”
Speaking almost directly to Trump, Macron quickly turned to the top issues of Syria, free trade and the Paris accord on climate change — issues where he and Trump disagree — as he urged the United States not to retreat from world affairs, but to embrace its historic role as a military leader of world affairs.
“We are living in a time of anger and fear because of these current global threats,” Macron told lawmakers. “You can play with fears and angers for a time, but they do not construct anything.”
With a nod to great American leaders, including former President Franklin Roosevelt, he warned against sowing seeds of fear.
“We have two possible ways ahead. We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears,” he said. “But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world.”
In recounting common bonds from the earliest days of the United States, Macron talked about a meeting between Ben Franklin and the French philosopher Voltaire, “kissing each other’s cheeks.”
In an apparent reference to his friendly meetings this week with Trump, he said, “It can remind you of something.”
Macron was speaking as part of his visit to the United States. It’s the first time a president from France has addressed Congress in more than a decade, but follows a tradition of foreign leaders appearing at the US Capitol.