Trump denies being caught off guard by Zarif visit, says Macron sought his approval

The president added that he was not looking for regime change and instead wanted to negotiate a new deal on Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

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By Carol E. Lee, Hallie Jackson and Shannon Pettypiece

BIARRITZ, France — President Donald Trump said Monday that he was open to a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, a face-to-face that French President Emmanuel Macron said he is trying to arrange in the coming weeks.

"If the circumstances were correct, were right, I would certainly agree" to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, said Trump, speaking at a news conference with Macron after the Group of Seven summit. He said a meeting within weeks is realistic.

While he did not articulate any preconditions, the president had a message for Iran's leaders: "We’re not looking for leadership change."

Trump outlined three requirements for a new deal: It must block Iran's path to nuclear weapons, get rid of Tehran's ballistic missile capabilities and last longer than 10 years, the length of the 2015 agreement he withdrew from.

He said that in the meantime, amid any negotiations, Iran could obtain lines of credit, tied to oil, from multiple countries that would have an expiration date and have to be repaid.

"I think that Iran is a country of tremendous potential," Trump said, adding that it's in "a little rough neighborhood but eventually it's going to be a beautiful neighborhood."

The potential softening between Trump and Iran comes after Macron invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the G-7 at the last minute for discussions with European officials. Zarif arrived on Sunday, surprising some of Trump's top aides who hadn't been informed in advance.

Macron said he had spoken with Rouhani, who was also open to a meeting with Trump. One possible setting could be the gathering of world leaders next month at the United Nations General Assembly.

“I think that we’re making progress," Macron said at the joint press conference with Trump. "I want this meeting to happen, and I want there to be an agreement between the United States and Iran.”

The French leader said he discussed his plan to invite Zarif to Biarritz, where G7 leaders were meeting for two days. Trump said he approved of the move, which was aimed at bringing Trump and Iran to the negotiating table.

Since Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year, Macron and the leaders of Germany and the U.K. have tried to salvage it and bring the U.S. and Iran back to the negotiating table. Instead, Trump has adopted a so-called maximum pressure campaign of sanctions to squeeze Iran’s economy. He’s also expressed a willingness to meet with the Iranians without preconditions, but Iran’s leaders have refused.

Zarif, who was sanctioned by the Trump administration last month, said on Twitter Sunday that he met with Macron and other European officials while in Biarritz and that “Iran’s active diplomacy in pursuit of constructive engagement continues."

“Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying,' he added.

Some administration officials traveling with the president in France were furious in the hours after Zarif’s unannounced arrival in Biarritz. But they couldn’t say at that point when Trump had become aware of the visit. “It was a surprise,” one U.S. official said at the time.