BIARRITZ, France (Dispatches) -- A French-led effort to defuse tensions with Iran was thrown into confusion by Donald Trump on Sunday in a sign of behind-the-scenes differences between the leaders of G7 nations at a summit in Biarritz.
A French official claimed that the leaders from the club of rich nations had agreed on Saturday night to allow President Emmanuel Macron to talk to Tehran and pass on messages to try to tackle the growing crisis in the Persian Gulf.
The U.S. president — who has taken the hardest diplomatic line against Iran — immediately distanced himself from any suggestion that the leaders of the U.S., Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, France and the EU has reached agreement on a joint message.
"We agreed on what we wanted to say jointly on Iran,” Macron told LCI television. There is a message from the G7 on our objectives and the fact that we share them is important, which avoids divisions that in the end weaken everybody.”
"Everyone wants to avoid a conflict, Donald Trump was extremely clear on that point.”
Speaking shortly after Macron said that one had been signed off, Trump disputed the claim. "No, I haven't discussed that," Trump told reporters on Sunday.
Macron had said that he wanted the summit to yield a clearer strategy on how to avoid a further deterioration in the region.
He met Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif on Friday to discuss plans to ease the crisis including cutting some U.S. sanctions or setting up a mechanism to compensate Iran for economic losses.
Zarif flew into the French resort hosting the G7 summit on Sunday, an unexpected twist to a meeting already troubled by differences.
The Iranian minister was holding talks with his French counterpart to assess what conditions could lead to a de-escalation of tension between Tehran and Washington, a French official said.
The French official said that there was no plan for Zarif to meet members of Trump’s delegation at the summit venue, the Basque beachside town of Biarritz in southwest France.
Iranian U.N. mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi posted on Twitter: "No meeting with Americans in Biarritz.”
Asked about reports of Zarif’s arrival at Biarritz, which had been closed for the Saturday-Monday summit of the seven industrialized nations, Trump said: "No comment.”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned other leaders of the dangers of protectionism and urged Washington not to carry through on its threat to impose tariffs on German autos.
However, the White House doubled down on its aggressive stance toward trade with China.
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, explaining what Trump meant at a news conference when he said he had second thoughts after he had raised tariffs on Chinese tariffs last week, said he meant that he wished he had raised them higher.
Trump arrived on Saturday in glitzy southern French resort of Biarritz with Iran just one of a raft of policy differences with his G7 counterparts including over trade, tariffs and the environment.
The U.S. and the EU have taken starkly different approaches towards Iran. Trump ended the Barack Obama-era deal from 2015, which ended sanctions in return for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, while the EU has sought to continue trade.
The seizure — and later release — of the Iranian tanker Grace 1 off the Gibraltar coast highlighted continued differences of approach with the U.S. seeking to detain the ship, forcing it to divert from its planned Sunday arrival in Greece.
The G7 leaders discussed Iran at the opening summit dinner when the French side insisted that a deal had been agreed.
Macron met Trump for an unscheduled two-hour lunch meeting on Saturday after differences between the host nation and its most powerful member threatened to jeopardize the summit before it had even started.
Trump had threatened to impose sanction on France in retaliation for a French plan for a digital services tax, which will hit tech giants such as Apple and Google.
Despite the differences, Trump leveled his guns at the "Fake and Disgusting News” media for suggesting that relations between the leaders were tense and claimed the leaders had "very good meetings”.
But the cracks appeared after the first meeting of the day with new British premier Boris Johnson, his closest ally at the talks, when the two disagreed over the U.S. trade war with China. Johnson said he was in favor of "trade peace”.
The discord was spelt out by Donald Tusk, the European Council president, who said told reporters before the meeting that it was "increasingly hard” to find common ground.
"This is another G7 summit which will be a difficult test of unity and solidarity of the free world and its leaders," he said. "This may be the last moment to restore our political community."
Johnson — whose amicable meeting with Trump was set to be followed by more turbulent session with Tusk over Brexit — also appeared to allude to the difficulties during comments to Macron.
During a long handshake on Sunday, Johnson told his French counterpart: "You did very well last night. My God, that was a difficult one."
Macron has put the environment at the centre of his agenda for the three-day summit but faced pushback over his desire to halt an EU trading deal with Brazil until it tackled fires in the Amazon.
He also faced protests on Sunday from demonstrators who say that his challenges to global leaders to tackle climate change have not been matched by his own actions.