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At G-7, Macron Springs Surprise Iranian Visit


We're going to begin today's program at the G-7 summit taking place in France. That's the annual meeting of the leaders of some of the world's biggest economies. President Trump started off the day by seeming to express doubts about his trade war with China. Then, in the afternoon, a surprise visit by the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. He flew in unannounced for side talks with the French over Iran's nuclear program. NPR's Frank Langfitt is covering this summit. It's in the French resort town of Biarritz. And he's with us now to tell us more.

Frank, thank you so much for joining us.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Great to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: So the trade war is making leaders anxious and weighing on the global economy. What did President Trump say about it today?

LANGFITT: Well, it was really interesting. He was taking questions from reporters. And, as you were saying, he seemed to express doubts about what's really become a spiraling trade war. It's been rattling stock markets, and there are fears of recession here in Europe and maybe even the U.S. And reporters asked the president if he had any second thoughts. It was kind of a rambling answer, but he said, yeah, sure. Why not? Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything.

Well, this, of course, caught people's attention, and the White House quickly jumped in to say the press had greatly misinterpreted the answer, and what the president really regretted was not raising the tariffs even higher - which, I've got to tell you, having listened to it and seen the response from the president, it didn't sound like that at all.

MARTIN: And then the other big story of the summit today, Iran - Iran is not among the world's top economies - certainly not a member of the G-7. Tell me more about this surprise visit.

LANGFITT: Yeah. This was really unexpected. The French president, Emmanuel Macron - he's, of course, hosting the G-7, and this seems very much to be his show. He has been talking with the Iranians, trying to find a way to soften the current U.S. sanctions and reduce tensions with the Americans. And what he seemed to do really, Michel, was spring this on the other leaders. French newspapers say Macron's government only told the American delegation about this yesterday, and the Iranians said they were not going to try to meet with the Americans. And Zarif has already left.

Of course, you know, it's important to remember Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal last year. The relations between the two countries are very tense. So it was quite a surprise to have Zarif showing up here. And, asked about the visit today, Trump said something which he rarely says, which is no comment.

MARTIN: And, of course, this is all taking place while the U.K. is still trying to figure out the terms of its departure from the European Union. The new prime minister was there, Boris Johnson. Trump is continuing to drive his America First agenda. It would seem to be a difficult time for leadership in the West. So what did you learn from this summit about how these leaders are interacting with each other?

LANGFITT: Well, I would say Trump still continues to seem to be a bit of the odd man out. Last night at dinner, Macron greeted everybody very warmly. But when Trump pulled up - a big entourage, of course, big convoy of vehicles - Macron seemed to have kind of a tight smile. And, as we've talked about before, last year, Trump left the G-7 early. He refused to sign the communique after he had this row with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

And what's interesting, I think, is Macron seemed unwilling to walk on eggshells for the American president. And by springing this Iranian visit, he seemed to make it clear that he's not going to shape the summit to avoid triggering someone like Trump. Of course, we have one more day left tomorrow, and we'll see how it goes.

MARTIN: And is there someone with whom the president seemed to get along well?

LANGFITT: Yeah, there was - Boris Johnson. Of course, he's the U.K. prime minister, and they've met on a number of occasions. They have a very natural rapport, and they're big sort of oversized personalities. As you said, they're on the same side with Brexit. And another thing I would say is that Johnson sort of feels that he needs to be cozy with Trump because he's leaving the EU, and he's desperate for a trade deal with the U.S. So it seems like Trump does have a buddy at this summit but still seems a bit distant from the other leaders of the major economies.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting from the G-7 summit in France.

Frank, thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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