WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, following a series of high-stakes meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, indicated he was “flexible” on his longstanding position that the United States should withdraw from the multinational Iran nuclear deal -- raising the possibility he could renew the agreement ahead of a May 12 deadline.
The two presidents met at the Oval Office, where Macron urged Trump to consider remaining in the three-year-old agreement -- which Trump has derided as “insane” and “ridiculous” -- as conditions of a “new deal” are worked out.
Macron, speaking to reporters, said such a new agreement would include measures that Trump has advocated, including blocking Iran from further developing its ballistic weapons program and curbing its influence in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
Trump told reporters at a joint news conference with his French counterpart that he and Macron were “fairly close to understanding each other” on Iran, later adding that “most things we agreed with, we can change, and we can be flexible.”
“Nobody knows what I’m going to do on the 12th, although Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea,” Trump said, turning to Macron at the joint news conference. “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.”
Trump’s remarks came as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned Trump against scrapping the existing deal, which was signed under the Obama administration in 2015 and includes such signatories as China and Russia. Rouhani, in a speech broadcast on Iranian state television, told a cheering crowd of thousands, “if anyone betrays the deal, they should know that they would face severe consequences,” according to The Associated Press.
“I am telling those in the White House that if they do not live up to their commitments, the Iranian government will firmly react,” Rouhani said.
Trump issued his own warning to Iran from the White House: “If they restart their nuclear program, they will have bigger problems than they ever had before.”
Macron said that upholding the existing Iran deal and building “on what has already been accomplished” by the accord was critical to ensuring that the United States and its European allies could “find a solution to the Syrian situation.” He hailed as “unprecedented” the recent joint air strikes conducted by the U.S., Britain and France aimed at chemical weapons facilities operated by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and called for continued cooperation on foreign security matters.
“It is together that we will counter the proliferation of arms of massive destruction, be it in North Korea or Iran,” Macron said at a morning arrival ceremony at the White House South Lawn.
Trump, speaking at the Oval Office, also offered rare praise to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, describing his actions ahead of upcoming denuclearization talks with the United States as “very honorable.” Kim has announced that North Korea will temporarily suspend nuclear missile testing until the proposed summit meeting.
“He really has been very open and, I think, very honorable from everything we’re seeing,” Trump said. His remarks were a departure from previous tweets describing Kim as “Little Rocket Man.”
Trump said he was hopeful the two nations could agree on a plan to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, but he also left the door open to walking away from the talks -- as he has said before.
“Maybe good things will happen, and maybe we’re all wasting a lot of time,” Trump said Tuesday. “But hopefully it will be good for everybody concerned.”
Trump and Macron, on the second day of their three-day summit, continued to put on display what both have described as a close friendship, often complimenting each other in front of reporters and trading handshakes and kisses on the cheek.
“It’s a great honor, a great honor that you’re here, in fact I’ll get that little piece of dandruff, that little piece,” Trump said as he brushed Macron’s shoulder in front of reporters at the Oval Office. “We have to make him perfect. He is perfect. So it’s really great to be with you, and you are a special friend.”