Iran’s Zarif leaves G7 talks, unclear if progress made to ease tensions

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BIARRITZ, France (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister made a flying visit for talks with host France at the G7 summit on Sunday, as Paris ramped up efforts to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington, a dramatic diplomatic move that the White House said had surprised them.

European leaders have struggled to tamp down the brewing confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled Washington out of Iran’s internationally-brokered 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is under U.S. sanctions, flew to the southwest French town of Biarritz where the Group of Seven leaders are meeting. He held more than three hours of talks, including with Macron, before heading back to Tehran.

“Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying,” Zarif tweeted, adding that in addition to meeting French leaders he had given a joint briefing to officials from Germany and Britain.

French officials sought to bill the meeting as important to “refine Iranian propositions” to help defuse the crisis after G7 leaders had discussed Iran over dinner on Saturday.

“The discussions that were held between the president and Zarif were positive and will continue,” a French official said after the meeting, declining to take detailed questions.

The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of many international sanctions on Tehran.

Since pulling Washington out of the deal last year, 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.