French president Emmanuel Macron will lead a European effort to convince US president Donald Trump to remain in the Iran nuclear deal when the two leaders hold a bilateral meeting on Tuesday at the White House.
Mr Macron arrived in Washington with his wife on Monday evening at the start of a three-day visit to the US capital. Mr Trump and his wife Melania hosted Mr Macron and his wife for a rare private dinner at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate just outside Washington on Monday night. The French president will travel to the White House on Tuesday morning for meetings followed by a state dinner.
Mr Trump must decide by May 12th whether to renew a waiver on US sanctions on Iran. So far he has met previous deadlines by approving sanctions relief but has indicated he will not continue supporting the deal unless amendments are made.
Mr Macron's visit takes place amid rising alarm in European capitals about the prospect of Washington pulling out of the deal which was negotiated by President Barack Obama and several western countries in December 2015.
Speaking in Toronto on Monday where he is attending the G7 meeting of foreign ministers, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said that the other signatories to the deal do not want the US to withdraw.
“We don’t want to see that outcome, but clearly a lot of thought is going into how to keep a non-US version,” he said. “Believe me, that is not our preferred option.”
“There is a strong view around the table that we need to make the case for the JCPOA,” he said, referring to the deal’s official name. “We accept that Iranian behaviour has been disruptive in the region, we accept the president has some valid points that need to be addressed, but we believe they are capable of being addressed inside the deal,” Mr Johnson said.
His comments were echoed by German foreign minister Heiko Maas. "We believe it is extremely important to uphold this agreement. Were it to fail or the US to drop out, we would not have anything comparable to it and we fear that the situation would significantly deteriorate with everything that goes with it," Mr Maas said.
The future of the Iran deal was also expected to be raised by German chancellor Angela Merkel when she meets Mr Trump on Friday.
One way the European partners could persuade Mr Trump to stay in the deal would be by announcing new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile programme, or toughening their inspections of nuclear sites – a clear concern for Mr Trump.
But there was little indication from the Trump administration that the US president was prepared to compromise.
Speaking just minutes after Mr Macron touched down in Washington, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "The president has been extremely clear that he thinks it's a bad deal. That certainly has not changed."
The prospect of Washington pulling out of the JCPOA on May 12th would come just weeks before Mr Trump’s planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
A senior US official struck a note of optimism on Monday about the prospects for the summit. US defence secretary Jim Mattis said he was optimistic that talks with North Korea would be "fruitful".
“Right now, I think there is a lot of reasons for optimism that the negotiations will be fruitful and we’ll see,” Mr Mattis said. He was speaking days after Pyongyang announced it planned to halt nuclear activity, though there was no commitment to denuclearise.