French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Washington hoping to convince President Donald Trump to stick with the Iran nuclear deal.
Instead, Macron now believes it’s going to be necessary, following his discussions with Trump, to negotiate an additional, new deal with Iran – and the US would like it to be even more formal, possibly a legally-binding treaty.
According to sources familiar with the discussions between Trump and the French President, the two hashed out a plan to begin negotiating another deal with the Iranians right away, one that will sit alongside and go further than the 2015 agreement that constrains Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The “treaty” would seek to put multiple outstanding issues that Trump has railed against into one box: Iran’s ballistic missile program, the “sunset clauses” that ease limits on Iran’s centrifuges and nuclear enrichment under the current deal, and even Iran’s behavior in regional conflicts like the ones in Yemen and Syria.
This goes well beyond the current discussions that have continued for months between the US and Europe, with European allies lately growing more optimistic that they could convince the US to reach a “political agreement” to stay in the nuclear deal, and then work together over time with Iran to address what happens once the deal expires.
It is not at all clear whether the Iranians or other signatories to the original agreement – the UK, Germany and the EU – would agree to the new proposal. But pressure has been building since Trump set a May 12 deadline for the US and Europe to address issues that aren’t covered in the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
May 12 is the date by which Trump has to decide whether or not to continue waiving sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the Iran deal. Under US law, the President has to recertify the agreement every few months.
One source familiar with the discussions said that what Iran says in private is very much like the rhetoric it uses in public– that renegotiating would kill Tehran’s participation.
When asked for comment a National Security Council spokesperson told CNN “we have nothing to announce.”
In remarks with the French President at the White House on Tuesday, Trump excoriated the Iran nuclear deal, the signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration, as “insane” and “ridiculous.” But he added that he could support “a new deal” if it was strong enough.
Macron hinted at the new proposal in an address to Congress Wednesday morning, telling lawmakers gathered in the House chamber that France would pursue a “comprehensive” deal with Iran that addressed all issues, even if Trump walked away from the deal. But Macron indicated that Trump was willing to work on a more expansive agreement.
“France will not leave the JCPOA – because we signed it,” Macron told Senate and House lawmakers. “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.”
Macron is pushing “four pillars” in his approach, which would keep the nuclear pact, but – as with the proposed new treaty he discussed with Trump – would also address Iran’s long-term nuclear work, its regional military activity in Syria and Yemen, and its ballistic missile program, which Tehran insists is for defensive measures.
The French President arrived as Europeans were feeling somewhat hopeful about the prospects of a political agreement that would keep the US in the deal and allow Trump to save face.
Macron quickly realized that the chances were slim, sources say, and that Trump was looking for more than just a temporary fix that would buy more time, but the ability to say that he had changed the JCPOA itself.
On Wednesday night, Macron told reporters that he thought Trump was still inclined to pull out of the Iran deal, but that he felt he’d made some progress with the President.
“I don’t know what President Trump will decide to do on May 12th,” Macron said. “But I wanted us to agree upon a positive agenda … the Iran nuclear deal will be complied with and defended by France and the EU.”
Macron also said that regardless of Trump’s decision in May, he had proposed setting up a framework under which they could discuss the JCPOA with Iran, along with three other aspects Trump has taken issue with: the missiles, the “sunset” agreements and Tehran’s regional activities.
Trump, he said, seemed open to such an agreement, which – to Macron – felt like progress.
“So my commitment, my action is not to try to convince President Trump to walk away from his campaign’s commitments or to change his mind,” Macron said. “I’m not a masochist. I believe that what we should be doing is to try to find an efficient way to build this genuine multilateralism.”
CNN’s Nicole Gaouette, Laura Koran and Jeremy Diamond in Washington and Samantha Beech and Spencer Feingold in Atlanta contributed to this report