Trump Signals Openness to a ‘New Deal’ to Constrain Iran

“Nobody knows what I’m going to do on the 12th, although Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea,” he said in an appearance with Mr. Macron, who winked at him in silent reply. “But we’ll see. But we’ll see also if I do what some people expect, whether or not it will be possible to do a new deal with solid foundations. Because this is a deal with decayed foundations. It’s a bad deal. It’s a bad structure. It’s falling down. It should have never, ever been made.”

As Iran warned on Tuesday that it might resume its nuclear activities if the United States does pull out, Mr. Trump threatened it with unspecified retaliation. “You can mark it down,” he said. “If they restart their nuclear program, they will have bigger problems than they have ever had before.”

As for North Korea, Mr. Trump held out hope for an enduring deal that has eluded his three most recent predecessors. “We’re having very, very good discussions,” he said. “Kim Jong-un, he really has been very open and I think very honorable from everything we’re seeing.”

The president has previously denounced Mr. Kim as a “madman,” nicknamed him “Little Rocket Man,” derided him as “short and fat” and threatened to rain down “fire and fury” if he threatened the United States.


Mr. Trump praised his warm relationship with Mr. Macron on Tuesday.

Tom Brenner/The New York Times

Mr. Trump’s praise for the North Korean leader rankled critics, who quickly pointed out that the country has one of the most repressive systems in the world. An American college student died shortly after being released from North Korean custody and three other Americans are still being held. Mr. Kim has been accused of ordering the killing of family members, including the assassination of a half brother poisoned last year with VX nerve agent in Malaysia.

As he held out the prospect of forging an agreement with Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump repeated his vow to walk away from the talks if they did not prove fruitful. “Unlike past administrations, I will leave the table,” he said. “But I think we have a chance of doing something very special with respect to North Korea. Good for them, good for us, good for everybody.”

Mr. Trump would not elaborate on what he meant by “very honorable” when asked by a reporter, but he instead repeated his hopes for a deal while denying that he had given up anything before the meeting. “We have made no concessions despite some of the media saying that I’ve made concessions,” he said. “I haven’t even discussed a concession, other than the fact that meeting is a great thing.”

In his talks with Mr. Trump, Mr. Macron emphasized that, while imperfect, the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A., should not be tossed aside but instead become one pillar of a broader agreement focused on four pillars.

The first would curb Iran’s nuclear program through 2025 or beyond, as the 2015 agreement made by President Barack Obama does, while the second would extend those limits. The third pillar would prevent Iran from developing ballistic missiles and the fourth would discourage it from interfering in neighboring countries.


For the first official state visit of his presidency, Mr. Trump hosted a traditional arrival ceremony on the South Lawn.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

“I’ve never been as critical of the J.C.P.O.A. as President Trump has, because I believe we can add to it,” Mr. Macron said. “But not knowing the decision President Trump will take, I would like us to work on a deal to build on what has already been accomplished on the J.C.P.O.A., which is beyond the current activities, the ballistic activities and the regional influence.”

Mr. Macron said the goal would be to “contain Iran in the region,” an argument that seemed to resonate with Mr. Trump, who said one goal would be to block Iran from gaining access to the Mediterranean Sea through Syria. While the two announced no agreement, Mr. Macron said he sensed a “convergence of views” that they could build on.

Iran’s security chief warned on Tuesday that his country would consider leaving the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, if Mr. Trump pulls out from the 2015 agreement. The official, Ali Shamkhani, said signatories to the nonproliferation treaty have the right to leave it if they “feel their national interests are not intertwined” with the accord. “This is one possibility for the Islamic Republic,” he said during a news conference.

For their part, Israeli officials moved to shape Mr. Trump’s thinking as well. Avigdor Liberman, the Israeli defense minister, said he planned to leave for the United States on Tuesday night so that he could meet with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and John R. Bolton, the president’s new national security adviser and a longtime opponent of the Iran nuclear agreement. The meetings, he said on Twitter, were to discuss “Iran’s expansion in the Middle East and Syria.”

The comments came on a day of pomp and ceremony, as Mr. Trump rolled out the red carpet for Mr. Macron and praised their close relationship. The two embraced warmly and kissed each other on the cheek. In one odd moment in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump even brushed what he said was dandruff off Mr. Macron’s jacket. “We have to make him perfect,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “He is perfect.”

For the first official state visit of his presidency, Mr. Trump hosted a traditional arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, complete with military bands, color guards, a fife-and-drum corps and a 21-gun salute. In the evening, he hosted an opulent state dinner, his first since taking office, featuring rack of lamb and jambalaya with nectarine tart for dessert.

“The wonderful friendship we have developed over the last year is a testament to the enduring friendship that binds our two nations,” Mr. Trump said during the morning ceremony. “Your visit, Mr. President, comes at a critical time for our alliance.”

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Emmanuel Macron to Press Trump to Keep Iran Nuclear Deal

“I suspect that this will be a very difficult conversation,” said Wendy R. Sherman, the former top State Department official who negotiated the Iran deal for Mr. Obama. “I’m sure that Macron will say how important staying in the deal is to a strong trans-Atlantic relationship in all things, particularly security. I think Merkel will deliver the same message on Friday.”

Even so, the White House signaled Monday that Mr. Trump enters the talks with one set impression. “He thinks it’s a bad deal — that certainly has not changed,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.

The fate of the Iran agreement could influence the president’s forthcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader who already has a small nuclear arsenal. Whatever its flaws, American officials understand that canceling the Iran deal days or weeks before that meeting might complicate Mr. Trump’s chances of making an agreement with Mr. Kim.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, implicitly made that point Monday by noting that the negotiations that led to the nuclear agreement between his country and six world powers involved give and take by all sides.

“And now the United States is saying, ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable. But whatever I gave you, now I want it back,’” Mr. Zarif said in an interview with The National Interest, a Washington policy magazine. “Who would, in their right mind, deal with the U.S. anymore?”

Mr. Trump faces conflicting positions among his own advisers as he reconstitutes his national security team. John R. Bolton, his new national security adviser, has long advocated simply ending the Iran deal, while Mike Pompeo, set to become secretary of state, is open to keeping it if strong new provisions can be negotiated.

Mr. Macron arrived in Washington to a festive welcome. American and French flags flew on Pennsylvania Avenue as he and his wife, Brigitte Macron, were greeted at the White House by Mr. Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump.

Mr. Macron reached in for a hug and kissed Mr. Trump on both cheeks, French-style, a sign of their warm ties. The two couples headed inside for a few minutes and then out to the South Lawn, smiling and chatting casually as cameras recorded the moment.


President Trump and his wife, Melania, with President Emmanuel Macron of France and his wife, Brigitte, on Monday on the South Lawn of the White House.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Wielding shovels, the two presidents moved some dirt around where a tree was to be planted, a gift from the Macrons. The tree, a European sessile oak, came from Belleau Wood, where, during World War I, nearly 10,000 American Marines were killed or injured in battle in June 1918. From there, the two couples flew by helicopter to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate for dinner.

The Macrons will return to the White House on Tuesday morning for a pomp-filled arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, complete with members of all five branches of the military in formal uniforms. The two presidents will hold meetings and conduct a joint news conference. In the evening, the Trumps will host their first state dinner, featuring rack of spring lamb and Carolina gold rice jambalaya cooked New Orleans style.

Mr. Trump, 71, and Mr. Macron, 40, have forged an unlikely friendship, despite their political differences over the Iran deal, international trade, climate change and other issues. But while Europeans consider Mr. Macron their envoy to Mr. Trump, he has had mixed success influencing the president. The two leaders teamed up to launch airstrikes against Syria this month in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack, but when Mr. Macron publicly said he had persuaded Mr. Trump to keep American troops in the country “for the long term,” the White House quickly disputed him.

Mr. Macron telegraphed his message on Iran by appearing on the president’s favorite network, Fox News, over the weekend.

Is the pact “a perfect thing for our relationship with Iran? No,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But for nuclear, what do you have as a better option? I don’t see it. What is the what-if scenario or your Plan B? I don’t have any Plan B for nuclear against Iran.”

Mr. Macron added that he supported modifications to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A. “My point is to say, don’t leave now to J.C.P.O.A. as long as you don’t have a better option for nuclear, and let’s complete it with ballistic missile and a regional containment,” Mr. Macron said.

Mr. Zarif picked up on that on Monday. “President Macron is correct in saying there’s no ‘Plan B’ on JCPOA,” Mr. Zarif wrote on Twitter. “It’s either all or nothing. European leaders should encourage President Trump not just to stay in the nuclear deal, but more importantly to begin implementing his part of the bargain in good faith.”

The negotiations with European officials, led by Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, have found some common ground, according to people briefed on the talks. Negotiators are developing two annexes, or side agreements, to the original deal, one intended to constrain Iran’s missile program and the other to confront its aggressions in the Middle East.

Negotiators have agreed on strong measures to impose sanctions on Iran if it tests long-range missiles and are negotiating a framework document to respond to testing of short- and medium-range missiles. They have agreed that Iran would be sanctioned if it blocks international nuclear inspectors from any site, including military sites. And they have made progress in defining a trigger for reimposing sanctions lifted as part of the 2015 deal — if Iran were found to have expanded its nuclear program enough to allow it to develop a weapon in less than a year.

But negotiators are divided over what would happen then. The Trump administration insists that sanctions be reimposed automatically if Iran trips that one-year wire, while the Europeans want the trigger to be a determination that Iran’s expansion is inconsistent with its civilian nuclear program. If the Americans and Europeans ultimately agree, that would effectively end the expiration provisions known as “sunsets” by making the one-year limit permanent.

“The Europeans have moved very far in a few months, and I think this should be bridgeable, but of course it really depends on Macron and Trump,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “It sounds narrow, but it’s actually pretty fundamental. It’s entirely possible that the thing breaks down on that basis.”

The Germans are the most resistant among the Europeans, arguing that renegotiating without Iran or the other parties to the deal, Russia and China, amounts to bad faith and ultimately will cause the original agreement to collapse. If no side agreements are reached, the Trump administration is also preparing contingency plans for Mr. Trump to withdraw from the Iran deal altogether and what the United States would then do to counter Iran.

Russia and China have resisted any changes. “We will obstruct attempts to sabotage these agreements, which were enshrined in a U.N. Security Council resolution,” Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said Monday after meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Beijing.

But critics of the deal pressed Mr. Trump to remain strong. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Monday again condemned the agreement. The deal “gives Iran a clear path to a nuclear arsenal” and “does not deal with the ballistic missiles that can deliver this weapon to many, many countries,” he said. “This is why this deal has to be either fully fixed or fully nixed.”

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