US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron pledged on Tuesday to try to resolve US-European differences on Iran but Trump gave no clear signal about whether he would carry out a threat to abandon an international nuclear deal with Tehran.
After lengthy talks at the White House, Macron told a joint news conference with Trump that they had discussed “a new deal” that would strengthen the 2015 accord along the lines Trump wants, such as by addressing Iran’s expansion in the Middle East and its ballistic missile programme.
But with a deadline on US economic sanctions against Iran looming next month, it was unclear whether the two allies made substantial progress on the future of the nuclear deal, which the West sees as vital to preventing Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
Trump continued his hostile rhetoric toward the nuclear deal, calling it terrible, ridiculous and insane and threatening Iran with repercussions should it restart its nuclear programme.
“If Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid,” Trump said.
Trump has until May 12 to decide whether to keep the United States in the agreement and is under strong European pressure to remain in it, with Macron saying that while imperfect it holds the best chance of containing Tehran.
The two leaders also discussed Syria with Macron urging Trump to keep US forces there for the time being as bulwark against Iran and to ensure the defeat of Islamic State militants.
Trump did not promise to leave the troops in Syria but made clear they would not be withdrawn imminently.
“We want to come home. We’ll be coming home. But we want to leave a strong and lasting footprint,” Trump said.
Iran has said it will ramp up its nuclear programme if the deal collapses and a senior Iranian official said on Tuesday that Tehran might quit a treaty designed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons if Trump scraps the agreement.
Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear ambitions in return for relief from economic sanctions. Tehran says its nuclear programme is only for peaceful means.
Trump said he and Macron could have an agreement soon on the Iran deal. “We could have at least an agreement among ourselves very quickly. I think we’re fairly close to understanding each other.”
Trump called the Iran agreement, struck between Iran and world powers, a “terrible deal” that was “insane” and “ridiculous” because it did not deal with ballistic missiles or Iran’s involvement in conflicts such as those in Yemen or Syria.
A US withdrawal from the Iran agreement would raise tensions in an already volatile region, possibly prompting an arms race involving Saudi Arabia.
Pulling out of the Iran agreement would also raise questions over how Trump could coerce North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons. Trump is trying to arrange a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late May or early June.