On April 24, President Donald Trump warned that Iran would face serious repercussions if it restarts its nuclear program. “They will have bigger problems than they have ever had before,” he said at the start of a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House. Trump repeatedly called the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), “terrible” and criticized it for not addressing Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region and its controversial ballistic missile program. “It just seems that no matter where you go, especially in the Middle East, Iran is behind it,” he said.
During their joint press conference, Macron said he intended to work on a supplemental deal that would deal with Iran's ballistic missile program and contain its regional interventions. Trump expressed a need for a “new deal with solid foundations” but did not commit to a specific course of action for May 12.
At the end of his three-day trip, Macron told journalists that he expected Trump to withdraw from the JCPOA "on his own, for domestic reasons." Macron said he wanted to be the "honest broker of the situation."
Trump has threatened to withdraw from the JCPOA if the United States and its European partners cannot agree on ways to fix perceived flaws in it. If President Trump does not renew sanctions waivers for Iran before or on May 12, the United States will be in breach of the nuclear deal, potentially leading to its unraveling.
Iranian officials have warned that Tehran could quickly restart its nuclear program should the JCPOA fall apart. In an interview that aired on April 22, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CBS that Iran has several potential responses, “including options that would involve resuming at a much greater speed our nuclear activities.” The following are excerpts from Trump and Macron’s remarks.
Remarks to Reporters in the Oval Office
Q: Mr. President, what would you like to say about Iran during the talks with the French president?
Trump: Well we’ll be talking about Iran, and we’ll be talking about many things, terrorism, generally. But we will be discussing the Iran deal. I know the president wants to speak to me about that. …
Q: Are you willing to consider staying in the Iran deal?
Trump: We’re going to be talking about it, and we’ll see. I mean, people know my views on the Iran deal. It was a terrible deal. It should have never ever been made. We could have made a good deal or a reasonable deal. The Iran deal is a terrible deal. We paid $150 billion. We gave $1.8 billion in cash. That’s actual cash, barrels of cash. It’s insane. It’s ridiculous. It should have never been made, but we will be talking about.
Q (to Macron): What would you tell the president about the Iran nuclear deal?
Macron: The Iran deal is an important issue. We will discuss about that. But we have to take it as a part of the broader picture, which is security in the overall region. And we have the Syrian situation, we have upcoming election in Iraq, and we have the stability to preserve for our allies in region. And what we want to do is to contain the Iranian presence in the region, and JCPOA is part of this broader picture.
Trump: It just seems that no matter where you go, especially in the Middle East, Iran is behind it. Wherever there’s trouble – Yemen, Syria. No matter where you have it, Iran is behind it. Now, unfortunately, Russia is getting more and more involved, but Iran seems to be behind everything where there’s a problem. And you just have to take a look at what’s happening. You look at the fighters, Iran is always there. And we’re not going to allow certain things to happen that are happening. And the Iran deal is a disaster. They’re testing missiles. What is that all about? You look at the ballistic missiles that they’re going and testing. What kind of a deal is it where you’re allowed to test missiles all over the place? What kind of a deal is it when you don’t talk about Yemen, and you don’t talk about all of the other problems we have with respect to Iran, especially look at what they’re doing in Iraq. You just take a look at what’s happening in virtually any place in the Middle East, Iran is behind it. So what kind of a deal is this, where it wasn’t even discussed? And I know John Kerry made the statement that he didn’t want to discuss other things while he was making the deal, despite all of the money that we gave them. He didn’t want to discuss it because it was too complicated. That’s not the way to do it, because it was too complicated. So, we made this terrible deal, but we’ll be discussing it.
Q: The Iranians said they’ll restart their nuclear problem if the deal is …
Trump: We’ll find out. You’ll find out about that. It won’t be so easy for them to restart. They’re not going to be restarting anything. If they restart it, they’re gonna have big problems, bigger than they’ve ever had before. And you can mark it down. They restart their nuclear program, they will have bigger problems than they have ever had before.
Remarks from an Expanded Meeting in the Cabinet Room
Trump: We're looking forward to doing something but it has to be done and it has to be done strongly [on Iran and the nuclear deal]. ... We're fairly close to understanding each other. Our one on one went very well.
Remarks from a Joint Press Conference
Macron: Mr. President, please allow me to go back to a number of issues, which are fundamental for not only our relationship, but beyond. The first topic is Iran. You said once again, in front of the press, what your position was during the campaign and as well as the President of the United States. It's not a mystery we did not have the same starting positions or stances, and neither you nor I have a habit of changing our stances or going with the wind.
That being said, I can say that we've had very a frank discussion on that, just the two of us. You consider that the Iranian deal, the JCPOA -- the one negotiated in 2015 with Iran -- is a bad deal. For a number of months, I've been saying that this was not a sufficient deal, but that it enabled us, at least until 2025, to have some control over their nuclear activities.
We therefore wish, from now on, to work on a new deal with Iran. What we need -- and I believe that on that, our discussions allowed us to shed light on our convergence of views -- is that we need to cover four topics.
The first one is to block any nuclear activity of Iran until 2025. This was feasible thanks to the JCPOA. The second is to make sure that, in the long run, there is no nuclear Iranian activity. The third fundamental topic is to be able to put an end to the ballistic activities of Iran in the region. And the fourth one is to generate the conditions for a solution -- a political solution to contain Iran in the region -- in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq, and in Lebanon.
On these topics, I did not change. I constantly said that we needed to find the framework so that, together, and with the powers of the region, and with the Iranian leaders, manage to find a deal. I therefore would like us to commit to that effect in the weeks and months to come.
This is the only way to bring about stability. France is not naïve when it comes to Iran. We have also a lot of respect for the Iranian people, which, through their history -- its history -- has always shown its strength.
But we do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Each time we tried to unilaterally replace the sovereignty of the people, we brought about some more terror. But for our allies, we want sustainable stability. And I believe that the discussions we've had together make it possible to open the way, to pave the way for a new agreement, an agreement on which we will work. And beyond our European partners, we would like to involve the regional powers, and of course, Russia and Turkey.
It is also within this framework, as a matter of finding it together -- together, in the long run, we can find a solution to the Syrian situation. In Syria, we are together engaged within the international coalition against Daesh and the terrorists. And we will continue to act until end, within this framework, until victory.
That being said, in the long run, we need to win peace and make sure that Syria does not fall into hegemony in the region. So that effect, the approach -- which is agreed -- means that we can work, and work on all of the situation -- the whole of the situation -- in the region, and with these efforts, to contain Iran in the region.
We will continue to work to that effect within the U.N. Security Council to make sure that humanitarian law, the prohibition of chemical weapons are fully complied with. And we will continue to shoulder our responsibilities to that effect. But we will also work with our partners in building a sustainable, political solution, an inclusive one that will prevent any hegemony, and once again will prevent feeding terrorism in the future.
Trump: Emmanuel and myself have discussed the fact that we don't want to give Iran open season to the Mediterranean, especially since we really control it. To a large extent, we really have controlled it and we've set control on it. So we'll see what happens.
But we're going to be coming home relatively soon. We finished, at least, almost our work with respect to ISIS in Syria, ISIS in Iraq, and we have done a job that nobody has been able to do.
But with that being said, I do want to come home. But I want to come home also with having accomplished what we have to accomplish. So we are discussing Syria as part of an overall deal. When they made the Iran deal, what they should have done is included Syria. When I say "should have" -- before giving them, Iran, $150 billion and $1.8 billion in cash -- $1.8 million in cash. You think about this. Before giving this kind of tremendous money, okay -- $150 billion and $1.8 billion in cash -- in barrels, I hear, it was taken out, and in boxes it was taken out -- cash -- they should have made a deal that covered Yemen, that covered Syria, that covered other parts of the Middle East where Iraq is -- where Iran is involved. They didn't do that. ..
Macron: As for the Iranian situation, and I think I detailed in my introduction, for me, the key pillars of this new approach we want to adopt. And it's exactly what President Trump said. We have nuclear on the short run; we have nuclear on the long run. We have ballistic activity. We have regional presence of Iran. We want to fix the situation for these four pillars.
Syria is part of the fourth one. And what we have to work on, obviously, with Iran and the different parties in the region, the P5 and our allies, is to find a fair deal where we can fix the overall situation. This is the only way to preserve sovereignty in the region and to build peace on the very long run. Otherwise, we will have to come back in the region because of new terrorist groups for sure.
And I'm very happy about the discussion we had together, because we raised very new issues and very new solutions together, and especially the fact that the Syrian crisis and the Syrian situation should be part of this broader picture. And the fact that we are here and we are today in Syria, together as international coalition against ISIS, but tomorrow we will have to find a way to fix the situation from the political point of view, not automatically from a military point of view. Which means, to set up a series of agreements, part of this big deal, in order to be sure that Syria tomorrow will be a sovereign country with inclusiveness and free people in a situation to decide for the future. This is very important and that's our duty.
Trump: And I think we will have a great shot at doing a much bigger maybe deal, maybe not deal. We're going to find out, but we'll know fairly soon.
Macron: Now, regarding Iran, I've always been coherent, and you can go back to what I said at the U.N. General Assembly in September. I always said that there was the JCPOA but we needed to add three pillars post-2025 -- the ballistic issue and the regional influence. I do not know what President Trump will decide regarding the JCPOA, and it is his responsibility.
The JCPOA is the first pillar of this framework I just described. So I'm not saying that we're moving from one deal to another. I'm saying it is one aspect of the problem. I have never been as critical of the JCPOA as President Trump has because I believe that we can usefully add to it.
But no matter the decision that President Trump will take, what I would like is to work, as from now, on a new deal with four pillars, including what is already covered by the JCPOA, that is ongoing nuclear -- I mean, the current nuclear activities, the longer nuclear activities, the ballistic activities, and the regional influence
So this is constant. But over the past few weeks and in particular today, we've been able to go and to very much talk in details about this topic, including the situation in the region. And I believe that we've converged on a common reading on what is happening in Syria, in Yemen, in Iraq, in particular.
And on the fact that the nuclear issue is not the only one, that indeed there is a problem with the ballistic activity of Iran and their presence in a number of countries in the region. And that our willingness was indeed to set the conditions for the stability of the region.
Once we've built this convergence of you, the idea of moving on to a new deal that would include the solution for Syria, I believe, is a strong step forward thanks to the discussions we've had today.
So I very much would like us to work together with all of our partners. And the ministers of foreign affairs already gathered the small group, and they will be doing it again anytime soon. The purpose is to have some the allied powers -- and we amongst them -- and of course, also the regional powers, to work at the level of this small group. We also shall have some privileged discussions with Russia and Turkey on regional topics, including Syria. So as from now, we will work using that method in favor -- work towards a deal.
I believe we can both combine our common views and our differences, because we are not in a vacuum. I always said we should not tear apart the JCPOA and have nothing else. I think this would be -- that would not be the good solution. But once we are placing ourselves in a momentum, the purpose of which is to put together a broad agreement covering the four topics I just mentioned, it's very different because, first of all, we take on board the concerns and the criticism of President Trump regarding this deal, which, like I said, once again, this deal was supported by a former American administration and previous American administration.
But we can work, and it is also about respecting the sovereignty of the states of the region. It's not about intervening no matter what. It is rather about building a stable framework that will contribute to stability and to peacebuilding. And I think this is what we've been agreeing upon today. It's not about tearing about an agreement and have nothing, but it's about building something new that will cover all of our concerns.
Trump: And if I might add, the states and, as I alluded to -- and countries that are in the area, some of which are immensely wealthy, would not be there except for the United States and, to a lesser extent, France. But they wouldn't be there except for the United States. They wouldn't last a week. We're protecting them. They have to now step up and pay for what's happening, because I don't think France or the United States should be liable for the tremendous cost.
The United States is embarrassingly into the Middle East. As of a few months ago, as you've heard me say before -- and I don't take responsibility, but I would be very embarrassed if I had to -- $7 trillion. And when we want to build, Mr. President, our infrastructure, everybody says, "Oh, we want to be careful with our money." When we want to fix a highway or we want to build schools and lots of other things -- tunnels, bridges -- they say, "Oh, let's be careful with our money." And yet, we have spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, and we've gotten nothing for it. Nothing. Less than nothing, as far as I'm concerned. That's over an 18-year period.
The countries that are there that you all know very well are immensely wealthy; they're going to have to pay for this. And I think the President and I agree very much on that. And they will pay for it. They will pay for it. We've spoken to them. They will pay for it. The United States will not continue to pay. And they will also put soldiers on the ground, which they're not doing. And we will, in fact, bring lots of people home. We will have a strong blockage to the Mediterranean, which to me is very important -- because if we don't, you have Iran going right to the Mediterranean. Not going to have that.
But there is a chance -- and nobody knows what I'm going to do on the 12th, although, Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea -- 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 a deal with decayed foundations. It's a bad deal. It's a bad structure. It's falling down. Should have never, ever been made. I blame Congress. I blame a lot of people for it. But it should have never been made, and we're going to see what happens on the 12th.
But I will say, if Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid. Okay?
Macron: Regarding Iran, we have a disagreement regarding the JCPOA, but I think we are overcoming it by deciding to work towards a deal -- an overall deal that will enable us to deal with the nuclear issue but also treat it together with another three issues, which were not being dealt with so far.
So should the decision -- I mean, we've spent more than an hour, just the two of us -- and had the conclusions been that the United States of America would walk away from the JCPOA and France would not move, then our friendship would be wasted. But it is about making sure that we're each taking into account the position and the interests of our reciprocal countries.
It is unprecedented. We've never before taken a joint position, a joint stance on Syria the way we did, and on Iran, in favor of a deal that will enable us to cover the four pillars. There is intense work between ourselves and our teams; otherwise we would not be in a position to do as much.
In the past, sometimes France argued that it was time to take action against chemical weapons, and it was -- France was not followed by its allies, including the United States at the time. It is not what happened this time. We decided together what was possible and what was not. What was legitimate within an international framework, as two members of the Security Council, and we conducted an unprecedented military intervention at an unprecedented level of cooperation.
And please allow me to pay tribute to our troops, to our armies, and to that of the United Kingdom because we've led a unique operation, a proportionate one, and we were able to do so thanks to this relation that we entered.
So on Syria, Iran, the credibility of the international community against the use of chemical weapons -- you've seen it. You have the evidence that showed that the relationship between our two countries and our friendship enable us to achieve some concrete results. And this is an improvement compared where we stood a couple of weeks ago.
Macron’s Remarks to Journalists at the George Washington University
“My view — I don’t know what your president will decide — is that he will get rid of this [nuclear] deal on his own, for domestic reasons.”
“It can work (changing positions so often) in the short term but it’s very insane in the medium to long term.”
“When people say President Trump is not predictable, I think the opposite, he is very predictable.”
“Look at his campaign commitments… [Trump] repeated in his office two days ago …. that this was the worst deal ever — it’s nightmare, it was a catastrophe, and so on and so on.”
“I think the U.S. will decide very tough sanctions” after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.
“I want to be the honest broker of the situation.”
—April 25, 2018, to reporters at the George Washington University