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French Presidency Hails 'Positive' Talks With Iranian Foreign Minister; Zarif Says 'Difficult' Road Ahead

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The airplane carrying Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stands on the tarmac at the airport of the French seaside resort of Biarritz on August 25.

The French president's office has described talks on the sidelines of the Group of Seven (G7) summit in the coastal town of Biarritz between French leaders and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as "positive" and said the discussions, which also included Germany and Britain, would continue.

Zarif made a surprise visit to Biarritz for several hours on August 25 amid European efforts to salvage a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

"The discussions are positive and are ongoing," an official in President Emmanuel Macron's office said of the talks, which drew in both Macron and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as well as German and British officials.

Zarif wrote on Twitter that he had met Macron. "Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying," he said.

The French official added that the decision to invite Zarif had been taken "in agreement with the United States, in perfect harmony."

However, an unnamed White House official said U.S President Donald Trump was not forewarned by France that Zarif would meet a French delegation on the sidelines of the summit.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier this week
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier this week

Earlier, asked by journalists about Zarif's presence in Biarritz, Trump said: "No comment."

Tensions between Iran and the United States have ratcheted up since Washington last year withdrew from the 2015 deal under which Tehran agreed to rein in its nuclear activities in return for an easing of sanctions.

Washington has reimposed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy, and Tehran began reducing some of its commitments under the nuclear deal.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on August 25 that talks between the Iranian and French foreign ministers were a side event to the G7 summit and every opportunity should be seized to resolve tensions between the United States and Iran.

"We have to find a way to de-escalate -- if not we have to fear that Iran reneges even further on its [nuclear deal] commitments in September," Merkel said.

Macron has vowed to continue holding talks with Tehran in the coming weeks to try to defuse tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.

A number of recent incidents in the Persian Gulf has exacerbated tensions further.

Washington has been pushing its allies to help put "maximum pressure" on Iran to force Tehran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program.

Meanwhile, the nuclear deal's European signatories -- Britain, France, and Germany -- have tried to salvage the accord, with Macron leading efforts to defuse the crisis by finding ways of resuming dialogue.

Zarif is set to head to East Asia as part of a diplomatic push to win relief from biting U.S. sanctions.

He will visit China, Japan, and Malaysia for talks that will include "bilateral relations and most importantly regional and international issues," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa
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