US President Donald Trump (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron speak to the media in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2018 (Photo: AFP)
US President Donald Trump warned Iran on Tuesday not to follow through with threats to restart its nuclear program, as he and French President Emmanuel Macron tried to find common ground on saving an international agreement on Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Meeting Macron in the Oval Office, Trump heaped scorn on the 2015 nuclear accord negotiated by his predecessor, former president Barack Obama, and aimed at stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Iran has said it will ramp up its nuclear program if the deal collapses and a senior Iranian official said on Tuesday that Tehran might quit a treaty designed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons if Trump scraps the agreement.
"If they restart their nuclear program, they will have bigger problems than they have ever had before," Trump said without explaining what he meant.
Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear ambitions in return for relief from economic sanctions. Tehran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful means.
A source close to the French presidency said Trump's remarks were “an articulation of strongly-held positions. We knew that it’s a sensitive topic and, (it’s) among the priorities for this state visit. We are seeking to defend the French and European positions, which are not incompatible, in our view, with America’s concerns.”
Trump said he and Macron could have an agreement soon on the Iran deal. "We could have at least an agreement among ourselves very quickly. I think we're fairly close to understanding each other."
Trump called the Iran agreement, struck between Iran and world powers, a "terrible deal" that was "insane" and "ridiculous" because it did not deal with ballistic missiles or Iran's involvement in conflicts such as those in Yemen or Syria.
A U.S. withdrawal from the Iran agreement would raise tensions in an already volatile region, possibly prompting an arms race involving Saudi Arabia.
Pulling out of the Iran agreement would also raise questions over how Trump could coerce North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons. Trump is trying to arrange a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late May or early June.
Macron came to Washington hoping to persuade Trump to keep the United States in the Iran agreement, saying it offered the best chance to constrain Tehran, imperfect as it may be.
The French president has forged an improbable bond with the volatile Trump, and hopes to leverage their friendship into progress on not only Iran but exempting Europe from steel tariffs, and protecting the 2016 Paris climate accord.
He told Trump the Iran accord is part of a "broader picture" of security in region.
"On Iran, we must contextualize this subject within the challenges of the region. There is the situation in Syria, there is security in the entire region and I think, in any case, we share a common goal of avoiding an escalation and proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region. So the question is what is the best path," Macron said.
European calls for exemptions from Trump's plan for 25 percent tariffs on steel imports are also on their agenda, as well as the US president's desire to withdraw US forces from Syria.
Trump said chronic trade deficits with US allies around the world are "unacceptable."
Macron, whose visit will be followed by one on Friday from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has called on Trump to keep troops in Syria for the time being to ensure the defeat of Islamic State militants.
A 21-gun salute echoed across the South Lawn and a flute-playing fife and drum corps, in red-coated uniforms and tri-corner hats, marched by Trump and Macron and their wives, Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron in a welcoming ceremony on Tuesday.
In the evening, the Trumps are to host the Macrons at the first state dinner conducted by Trump since he took power.
Trump thanked France for joining with the United States and Britain in launching airstrikes in Syria earlier this month in response to a chemical weapons attack blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
He said he and Macron had developed over the past year "a wonderful friendship" that is "a testament to the enduring friendship that binds our two nations."