Presidents Donald Trump of the U.S. and Emmanuel Macron of France didn’t deny continued differences on the Iran nuclear deal during a joint press conference at the White House on Tuesday, but they expressed hopes for renegotiating or adding to the Iran JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
President Trump stated that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon nor be permitted to support terrorism. He thanked Macron for France’s part in the campaign against ISIS and called on countries of the Middle East to make “major contributions” in the fight against terror, including stepping up their financial efforts.
“France and the United States also agree that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon,” said Trump. “That regime must end its support of terrorism … No matter where you go in the Middle East, you see the fingerprints of Iran behind problems.”
As he did during remarks welcoming Macron in the morning, Trump again expressed honor for “heroic” French police officer Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, who was killed by an Islamic terrorist in southern France. Beltrame had taken the place of a female hostage and was one of several people killed by the jihadist.
“We will do what we must to protect our countries,” said Trump, who spoke of the need to “defend ourselves from threats outside.”
President Macron, speaking through a translator, remarked of the deep and ancient bonds between the United States and France. “These bonds are based on our deep attachment to freedom and peace. Each time they have been threatened we stood by one another,” Macron said, according to the translation provided during the event.
Macron acknowledged the difference in position between himself and Trump regarding the JCPOA. He said that while Trump has called the Iran nuclear deal a “bad deal,” he has called it, not a “sufficient deal.” Noq they wish to work on a new deal together.
Several times, Macron laid out the pillars he would like to see in a new deal: Deal with Iranian nuclear activity in the short run and in the long run, end ballistic activity, and generate a political solution to contain Iran in the region. On these topics, Macron said he has not changed and that they must find agreement and a deal. He said he wished to see them commit to that effort in the weeks to come, to bring stability.
Macron said they have a lot of respect for the Iranian people, but would not repeat “the mistakes of the past.” He said he believes that there is room for a new agreement and that they would like to involve regional powers, as well as Russia and Turkey. Macron said that in the long run, he believes they can find a solution with regard to Syria and to fighting terrorists in the region. He emphasized a need for peace and desire to work on the whole of this situation in the region and to control Iran.
He spoke of working with the U.N. Security counsel and that France will work with their partners.
Taking questions from reporters, Trump added that “Maybe good things will happen and maybe we’re all wasting a lot of time, but hopefully it’ll be good for everybody concerned.” He spoke of essentially obliterating ISIS in Iraq and Syria and that he and Macron don’t want to give Iran “open season to the Mediterranean.”
Trump brought up the $1.8 million in cash given to Iran as part of the Iran nuclear deal under the prior U.S. presidential administration. “Before giving this kind of tremendous money,” said Trump, “they should have made a deal that covered Yemen…Syria…other parts of the Middle East…where Iran is involved. They didn’t do that.”
Macron said that the key pillars of a nuclear deal are short-run issues for nuclear; long run issues for nuclear ballistic activity; and regional presence. He said they want to fix issues regarding these four and that Syria was a part of these pillars. He spoke of a fair deal to build sovereignty in the region and peace in the long run; if they don’t, they will just have to come back because of terrorism in the region.
The French President said that the Syrian crisis should be a part of this broader picture. He spoke of today’s international coalition against ISIS, but that they must find a way to fix the political situation tomorrow. Macron believes this requires setting up a series of agreements to be sure that Syria will be a sovereign country with inclusiveness for the future.
“I think we will have a great shot at doing a much bigger – maybe deal, maybe not deal, we’re gonna find out, we’ll know fairly soon,” Trump added in response to Macron.
Macron said he has always been coherent on his position on the JCPOA – that they need an additional agreement with multiple pillars. He said that they’re not moving from one deal to another. He has never been as critical of JCPOA as Trump has, because he believes they can add to it.
He said that they should not tear apart JCPOA and have nothing, but that they can add to it. He said this was the deal supported by the previous American administration, adding that the deal is about providing a stable framework for peacebuilding.
Trump then spoke of countries in the area, some “immensely wealthy,” that “would not be there except for the United States, and to a lesser extent France.” He said they must now step up and pay. Trump mentioned $7 trillion that has been spent by the U.S.
“We have spent seven trillion dollars in the Middle East and we’ve gotten nothing for it, nothing, less than nothing…over an 18 year period,” Trump added. “The countries that are there…are immensely wealthy.” Trump said that the U.S. has spoken to these countries and “they will pay for it. The United States will not continue to pay.” He said that they will also put soldiers on the ground and the U.S. “will, in fact, bring lots of people home.” He then emphasized a “strong blockage to the Mediterranean,” that he called “very important, because if you don’t, you have Iran going right to the Mediterranean. Not gonna have that.”
President Trump spoke of what he is going to do on the 12th and “whether or not it will be possible to do a new deal with solid foundations.” Trump called the current JCPOA a deal with “decayed foundations.” He called it a “bad deal” with a “bad structure” that’s “falling down” and should never have been made. He blamed Congress and “a lot of people for it.”
“If Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid,” Trump warned in a stern voice.
A member of the French press asked Macron about his differences with Trump on the Iran deal and whether the JCPOA can be saved.
Macron pointed to himself and Trump as having a different background and were perhaps not typical politicians. He said their minds are not easily changed, and that while they do have differences on the JCPOA, they can also deal with the other issues he previously mentioned. He said that they are each taking into account the interests of their countries.
“In the past sometimes France argued that is was time to take action against chemical weapons and France was not followed by its allies, including the U.S. at the time,” Macron said, according to the translation provided during the event. He spoke of the “unprecedented” military action on Syria.
Macron said they have made much progress in the most recent few weeks.
Trump said that he and Macron “have very much in common” and many things they agree about. He said that as leaders they have to show flexibility and added that they get along on many subjects they had discussed that day.
“It’s an honor to call you my friend,” Trump said to Macron as they closed the briefing.
Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana