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Iran foreign minister talks easing tensions in surprise appearance at G7 summit

Javad Zarif's officials denied there were any plans for him to speak with President Trump during brief G7 visit in Biarritz
Mohammad Javad Zarif made a surprise appearance in Biarritz, France, during the G7 summit there (AP)

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is in talks with his French counterpart on the sidelines of a G7 leaders' summit to discuss what conditions would de-escalate tensions between Washington and Tehran, a French presidency official said.

"Zarif came to Paris on Friday with Iranian propositions which obviously must be refined," the French official said.

"Yesterday there was a substantial discussion between G7 leaders, and it is important to now update Zarif in order to keep closing the gap ... on the conditions with which we could de-escalate the tensions and create breathing space for negotiations."

No discussions are planned between Iranian and American officials at this stage, the official said, adding that Zarif's visit had been finalised on Saturday evening.

Zarif made a surprise arrival in the French town of Biarritz on Sunday, delaying a trip to Asia, but his office said he does not plan to meet US President Donald Trump.

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European leaders have struggled to tamp down the brewing confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled his country out of Iran's internationally brokered 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.

It was not clear whether Trump had been informed of Zarif's visit, although French President Emmanuel Macron lunched with the US leader on Saturday and the leaders discussed Iran at length in the evening.

The French official said the decision to invite Zarif was made after the dinner.

Trump declined to comment when asked whether he was aware of Zarif's presence in Biarritz. US authorities earlier this month placed him under sanctions.

"Zarif will convey the Iranian leadership's response to French President Emmanuel Macron's proposal aimed at saving Iran's 2015 nuclear deal," a senior Iranian official told Reuters.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said Zarif would return to Tehran on Sunday before heading to China.

Trump had earlier appeared to brush aside French efforts to mediate with Iran, saying that while he was happy for Macron to reach out to Tehran to defuse tensions he would carry on with his own initiatives.

"We'll do our own outreach, but, you know, I can't stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk," Trump had said earlier when asked about Macron's mediation efforts.

In response to the tougher US sanctions and what it says is the inability of European powers that are party to the deal - France, Britain and Germany - to compensate it for lost revenues, Tehran has responded with a series of moves, including retreating from some of its commitments to limit its nuclear activity made under the deal.

The United States has made no indication it will ease any curbs, and it is unclear what kind of compensation mechanism Macron wants to offer Iran, given at this stage a proposed trade channel for humanitarian and food exchanges with Iran is still not operational.

Macron has also said that in return for any concessions he would expect Iran to comply fully with the nuclear deal and for Iran to engage in new negotiations.

"It's unprecedented, and given the context it's pretty audacious," said a French diplomatic source. 

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