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Iran Surprise Puts G-7 Divisions On Show

Rosalind Mathieson

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When Group of Seven leaders meet for dinner it’s always a spectacle. Not just the menu, but who sits where, who talks with whom — and who doesn’t. It seems the meal last night in the French seaside resort of Biarritz was particularly tense.

Differences over Russia (U.S. President Donald Trump muses about bringing Vladimir Putin back to the group after his 2014 expulsion over the Crimea annexation) and Iran (after Trump nixed the nuclear deal last year) were wide, officials say. And now host Emmanuel Macron has thrown a further log on the fire.

Word emerged today of a plane headed to Biarritz, carrying Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. He was there for a brief stop, Tehran said, and would not meet U.S. officials. Even so, just putting him in the same place as Trump is a risky move by Macron, and it appears he may not have discussed it with all his fellow leaders beforehand.

It follows Trump’s musings about inviting Putin as a “plus one” to the G-7 in the U.S. next year. It’s hard to see most of the other leaders stomaching Putin coming, even as a guest rather than a club member.

Coming on top of arguments over climate change, fires in the Amazon, Brexit and trade (despite a tentative U.S.-Japan deal), it’s unclear where the G-7 as an entity is headed, and, with doubts over whether there'll be any sort of communique, if it has outlived its usefulness.

If Biarritz is any indication, its days could yet be numbered.

Also in Biarritz

Power play | Inviting Zarif wasn’t the only move Macron made with an eye toward throwing Trump off balance. U.S. officials already suspected the French president might be trying to outwit the U.S. with his summit choreography, in part by picking a pre-summit fight with Brazil's president – a Trump admirer not even at the G-7 – over Amazon forest fires.

Doubling down | Trump acknowledged during his morning meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he’s having second thoughts on escalating the trade war with China — but not in the way you might assume. His top spokeswoman later said he meant he regretted not raising tariffs even more.

Bright spot | It wasn’t all angst. The U.S. and Japan agreed in principle on a trade deal under which Japan will slash tariffs on U.S. beef, pork and other agricultural products, while continuing to face levies on its own auto exports. Trump said Japan also would purchase large quantities of U.S. wheat and corn.

Brexit test | Johnson is using the G-7 to step up his campaign to convince the European Union to reopen Brexit negotiations. He had breakfast today with Trump, who described him as “the right man for the job” to take the fight to the Europeans, but it won’t be easy – while EU leaders are politely listening, they have given no indication they’re ready to give Johnson the concessions he wants.

Happening Elsewhere

Turkey sees its deal with the U.S. to carve out a narrow security zone in northern Syria as an opportunity to purge Kurdish fighters from a much larger section of the border region, Selcan Hacaoglu exclusively reports. A Hong Kong police officer fired a weapon, water cannons were deployed for the first time and multiple volleys of tear gas were launched in running skirmishes with protesters in the 12th weekend of unrest in the Asian financial center. While opponents in Libya’s civil war are locked in stalemate, their backers in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, both U.S. allies, are engaged in an aerial campaign that’s seen them target each other’s unmanned planes in a bid to determine the north African nation’s future.

And finally ...Their husbands may have spent the morning sparring, but the first ladies of the U.S. and France were all smiles as they sampled local sangria in a Basque countryside town 30 kilometers to the southeast of Biarritz. “Just an advice, don’t drink too much,” Brigitte Macron could be heard warning Melania Trump and other world leaders’ wives. It was part of a spouses’ day out that included tours of a 16th-century church and a villa built by French playwright Edmond Rostand.

 

 

--With assistance from Kathleen Hunter and Karl Maier.

To contact the author of this story: Rosalind Mathieson in London at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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