WASHINGTON -- Weighing U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord, President Donald Trump declared Tuesday that if the Iranians "restart their nuclear program, they will have bigger problems than they've ever had before."
Trump issued his warning from the Oval Office, where he and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the multinational nuclear agreement, the war in Syria and trade issues during a day of meetings at the White House.
Speaking at a joint news conference Tuesday, Trump appeared to be more in line with Macron's push for a longer-term U.S. presence in Syria. Trump, who announced weeks ago that he would withdraw American troops, said Macron reinforced the idea of a potential Iranian takeover of territory liberated from the Islamic State militant group.
"We'll be coming home," Trump said, "but we want to leave a strong and lasting footprint."
Macron told Trump that together the U.S. and France would defeat terrorism, curtail weapons of mass destruction in North Korea and Iran, and act together on behalf of the planet, a reference to Macron's work to revive a U.S. role in the Paris climate accord.
As for Iran, Trump was asked by reporters if he might be willing to remain in the Iran agreement. He replied, "People know my views on the Iran deal. ... It's insane, it's ridiculous. It should have never been made."
One of Macron's main objectives during his three-day visit to Washington is to persuade Trump to stay in the accord, which is aimed at restricting Iran's development of nuclear weapons. Trump, skeptical of the pact's effectiveness, has been eager to pull out as a May 12 deadline nears.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned the Trump administration Tuesday that pulling out would undermine America's nuclear talks with North Korea by proving the U.S. reneges on its promises.
He said in an interview that if Trump withdraws, Iran would "most likely" abandon the deal as well. Speaking before Trump's comments with Macron, Zarif added that Iran would no longer be bound by the deal's international obligations. That would free Iran to resume enrichment activity beyond the limits imposed by the 2015 accord.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking before supporters in Tabriz earlier in the day, said the U.S. would face "grave" consequences if it were to pull out of the deal.
Trump remains publicly undecided on the deal, saying Tuesday that "no one knows" what he'll do at the deadline he set to determine America's position. But he reminded his French counterpart of what he sees as flaws in the agreement, which he said fails to address ballistic missiles or Iran's activities in Yemen or Syria.
Macron told reporters that he and Trump would look at the Iran deal "in a wider regional context," taking into account the situation in Syria.
"We have a common objective, we want to make sure there's no escalation and no nuclear proliferation in the region. We now need to find the right path forward," Macron said.
Trump suggested that he was open to "doing something" on the Iran agreement as long as it was done "strongly." He told Macron, "We could have at least an agreement among ourselves very quickly." But when he was asked by reporters what that agreement would be, Trump said, "You'll find out."
During the news conference, Macron added that he and Trump discussed pursuing a "new agreement" with Iran on the broader regional concerns, including Syria. But it was not clear if Trump would be willing to keep the U.S. in the current deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in the meantime.
Macron will address a joint meeting of Congress today, where he will have the chance to speak to skeptics of the nuclear accord in both parties, particularly Republicans eager for Trump to rip up the deal.
U.S. military and intelligence officials have urged Trump not to pull out of the agreement, arguing that it has halted Iran's nuclear program.
The deal suspended harsh economic sanctions on Iran related to its nuclear program in exchange for new curbs on a program that the United States, Israel and others assessed was close to being able to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Iran denies it sought nuclear weapons and says its program is entirely peaceful.
Under the accord, which took effect in January 2016, Iran curtailed its production of enriched uranium, sharply reduced its enriched-uranium stockpiles, agreed to strict monitoring of its nuclear facilities by a United Nations watchdog agency and curbed other activities that raised proliferation concerns. But Iran continues to produce nuclear fuel at low levels and operate a nuclear power plant.
Domestic concerns were also near the surface for Trump. He refused to answer a reporter's question as to whether he is considering a pardon for his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, whose office was raided by the FBI. Trump called it "a stupid question." Cohen has not been charged in the case.
As Trump hosted the French president for the first official state visit of his administration, he and Macron lavished praise -- and even a pair of kisses -- on each other Tuesday.
"It's an honor to call you my friend," Trump said, after predicting that Macron would be a historic leader of France.
In a lighter moment, Trump and Macron demonstrated some of the chemistry that has marked their relationship. The U.S. president brushed something off Macron's suit jacket, saying, "We have a very special relationship, in fact I'll get that little piece of dandruff off." Trump added, "We have to make him perfect -- he is perfect."
The meetings followed a pomp-filled welcome ceremony on the South Lawn. Trump said before an audience of U.S. soldiers and members of his Cabinet that the relationship he forged with Macron at the start of his presidency was a testament to the "enduring friendship that binds our two nations." He also thanked the French leader for his "steadfast partnership" in the recent missile strike in response to the chemical attack in Syria.
Earlier this month, the U.S., France and Britain fired missiles into Syria to respond to the chemical weapons attack. The U.S. has 2,000 troops in Syria assisting local Arab and Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State militant group, though Trump has resisted a deeper U.S. involvement and is eager to withdraw completely from Syria.
The social highlight of Macron's visit came Tuesday night with a lavish state dinner at the White House. More than 130 guests dined on rack of lamb and nectarine tart and enjoyed an after-dinner performance by the Washington National Opera. The previous evening, the leaders took a helicopter tour of Washington landmarks and had dinner at the Potomac River home of George Washington in Mount Vernon, Va.
As he gave a toast at Tuesday's dinner, Trump hailed the bonds between the U.S. and France, saying, "May our friendship grow even deeper, may our kinship grow even stronger and may our sacred liberty never die."
Trump ended his first year in office without receiving a foreign leader on a state visit, the first president in nearly 100 years to do so. He was Macron's guest in July at the annual Bastille Day military parade in the center of Paris. Macron and his wife also took Trump and first lady Melania Trump on a tour of Napoleon's tomb and whisked them up in the Eiffel Tower for dinner overlooking the City of Light.
Macron was welcomed to the White House on Tuesday with a traditional arrival ceremony featuring nearly 500 members of the U.S. military and a booming 21-gun salute. He also attended a State Department lunch hosted by Vice President Mike Pence.
Information for this article was contributed by Darlene Superville, Zeke Miller, Ken Thomas, Jonathan Lemire, Josh Lederman, Edith M. Lederer and by other staff members of The Associated Press; and by Anne Gearan of The Washington Post.
A Section on 04/25/2018