Donald Trump was “surprised” Iran’s top diplomat was invited to the G7 summit in Biarritz by France, the White House has said.
The Trump administration was not aware in advance of the invitation to Mohammad Javad Zarif for talks on the sidelines and the president curtly told reporters he had “no comment” on the Iranian foreign minister’s presence.
Mr Zarif jetted out on Sunday evening following talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, who extended the invite.
The purpose of the unannounced visit and talks, French officials said, was to lower tensions stoked by the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran following the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear treaty and the seizure of two oil tankers.
Mr Macron has championed European efforts to keep the 2015 agreement alive after President Trump pulled the US out last year.
Under the deal, the brainchild of Mr Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, Tehran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
Mr Trump has since re-imposed severe sanctions, limiting Iran’s ability to sell its main export, oil – plunging the country’s economy into turmoil.
The US president appeared to be at odds with his French opposite number over a proposed message French officials said Mr Macron would deliver to Iran.
Mr Trump denied he had signed off on any such message, telling reporters, “No, I haven’t discussed that,” during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
White House officials said Mr Trump was noncommittal when the leaders discussed the subject of a message to Iran during a conversation about Iran’s nuclear programme.
Mr Macron only decided to invite Mr Zarif, who is subject to US sanctions himself, to Biarritz after meeting him for the first time on Friday.
Tensions have also been building between Iran and the West over the seizures of two ships – one Iranian near Gibraltar and the other British-flagged in the Strait of Hormuz – last month.
The Iranian ship, the Grace 1, seized by British forces, has since been released, but the British-flagged Stena Impero, which Iran captured in an apparent tit-for-tat move, is still being held.