President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron pledged on Tuesday to seek stronger measures to contain Iran, as the US leader considers whether to ditch an international accord meant to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
At a joint news conference after lengthy talks, Trump did not repeat threats to withdraw from the 2015 agreement with Iran which was negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, but made clear he has little patience for staying in the deal.
Midway through a three-day state visit by Macron, the two leaders were remarkably chummy, repeatedly shaking hands and extolling each other's friendship.
The friendliness extended to their talks on Iran, Syria and trade but there was no indication of a breakthrough on Macron's bid to persuade Trump to keep the United States in the Iran nuclear deal, maintain US troops in Syria and exempt European allies from 25-percent steel tariffs.
"It's not a mystery, we did not have the same starting positions, 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 a very frank discussion," said Macron.
He said he and Trump had discussed "a new deal" that would address Iran's expansion in the Middle East and its ballistic missile programme.
Trump must decide by 12 May whether to restore US economic sanctions on Tehran, which would be a severe blow to the pact that Iran signed with China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the United States.
Today, @FLOTUS Melania and I were honored to welcome French President @EmmanuelMacron and Mrs. Brigitte Macron to the @WhiteHouse. We look forward to hosting them at tonight's State Dinner, in their honor. pic.twitter.com/wGJcWqSzyP
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2018
It was unclear whether Macron made substantial progress in his efforts to prevent Trump from pulling out of the deal.
Trump left the issue open on Tuesday, although a source familiar with the internal debate at the White House said one option was under discussion was giving Europe more time to toughen the Iran deal's terms.
Trump said he and Macron could have an agreement soon on the Iran accord. "We could have at least an agreement among ourselves very quickly. I think we're fairly close to understanding each other."
Trump threatened Iran with repercussions should it follow through with a vow to restart its nuclear programme if the accord is scrapped.
"If Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid," Trump said.
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Trump and Macron repeatedly complimented each other and patted each other on the back during the French president's visit to the White House.
At one point Trump brushed dandruff from Macron's suit coat, saying: "We have to make him perfect – he is perfect.”
Macron urged Trump to keep US forces in Syria for the time being as a bulwark against Iran and to ensure the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) group.
Trump did not promise to leave the troops in Syria but made clear they would not be withdrawn imminently.
"We want to come home. We'll be coming home. But we want to leave a strong and lasting footprint," Trump said.