France’s Macron Replaces Interior Minister In Cabinet Revamp

France To Extend Lockdown As Virus Deaths Soar In Europe, US
File: French president Emmanuel Macron takes part in a visioconference with World Health Organization (WHO) general director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Elysee Palace on april 8, 2020 in Paris. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

 

French President Emmanuel Macron has replaced the ministers of the interior and environment in a revamped government under new Prime Minister Jean Castex, the presidency said Monday.

Gerald Darmanin, until now budget minister, replaces Christophe Castaner as interior minister, a troubled portfolio owing to alleged racism and violence among police forces.

Barbara Pompili, a former member of France’s green party, is the new environment minister in place of Elisabeth Borne.

But Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Defence Minister Florence Parly and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire are all staying in their posts, top presidential aide Alexis Kohler told reporters at the Elysee Palace.

 

AFP

Merkel, Macron Meet As Germany Takes On High-Stakes EU Presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a news conference following talks on European Union integration, defense and migration at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau.

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts French President Emmanuel Macron for talks on Monday, just days before Germany takes on the rotating presidency of the European Union with an economy mired in the worst crisis since World War II.

Berlin’s chairing of the 27-member bloc will be its last with Merkel in charge, and could be the one that defines the legacy of the leader dubbed the “eternal chancellor”.

With the future of the bloc’s relationship with Britain still to be determined, a crucial shift to a lower carbon world in the balance and crises from Libya to Syria all jostling for attention, there is no shortage of burning issues to tackle.

But it is the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic devastation it has wrought which will dominate and concentrate minds.

READ ALSO: EU Trade Chief Hogan Drops Out Of WTO Race

“This crisis that we’re currently experiencing is different compared to any other we have experienced since the founding of Europe,” Merkel, in power since 2005, told parliament in an address laying out Berlin’s priorities for the EU presidency.

“Alone in Europe, it has claimed more than 100,000 lives. A few weeks of economic standstill was enough to endanger what we have built up over years.”

With all to play for, member states are anxiously looking to Europe’s biggest economy to take charge.

In an interview published Saturday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said it was “very fortunate that Germany is taking over the presidency at this time of a major crisis.”

Merkel’s long experience and credibility “helps enormously,” she told the Handelsblatt newspaper.

– German ‘bulldozer’ –

Besides its geopolitical weight and economic heft, Germany takes on custodianship of the bloc with a strong hand as it has so far withstood the health emergency better than most other member states.

Compared to the debt crisis that threatened to sink the single currency zone in 2009-2010, Germany looks very different today — it’s out with Scrooge and in with Lady Bountiful.

Once an obstinate champion of budgetary rigour, Merkel’s government has ditched its no-new-debt dogma to throw resources at the crisis.

Its programme to shore up the economy totals more than a trillion euros in spending, loans and guarantees.

Together with Macron, Merkel sketched out the backbone of the 750 million-euro ($840-million) fund proposed by von der Leyen to bolster the bloc’s economy.

The fund would offer grants — with no repayment obligation — to countries hardest hit by the pandemic, a major policy U-turn for Berlin.

With an eye on the devastating blow taken by the worst-hit countries like Spain or Italy, Merkel explained that it was “imperative that Germany not only thinks of itself but is prepared for an extraordinary act of solidarity”.

“In such a crisis, everyone is expected to do what is necessary. And what is necessary in this case is rather extraordinary,” she told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

“Of course it’s good that things are moving forward finally. But it’s regrettable that without a jolt from crisis, this chancellor has usually lacked the drive to make changes,” complained weekly Der Spiegel of veteran firefighter Merkel — set to retire after elections late this year.

The recovery fund is likely to be among the key points raised when Merkel and Macron meet at German government retreat Meseberg on Monday.

Despite opposition from fiscal hardliners such as Austria and the Netherlaands, observers believe that the EU’s paymaster Berlin will ram through an accord.

“When the Germans are certain they are right, it’s very bulldozer, there is no margin for discussion,” a high-ranking EU official said.

– ‘Swan song’ –

An EU diplomat agreed, saying: “On the recovery fund, I expect Germany to dictate the whole process. Merkel is holding all the cards and (EU Council chief) Charles Michel will follow that.

“She also wants to get Brexit out of the way and she will always go for the deal as she wants to keep the West together. The third leg will be restoring ties with US after the election there.”

Merkel, who has ruled out running for a fifth term next year, won’t have much time.

Brexit talks will have to be done by the end of the year, while in November, the focus will be on whether US President Donald Trump, whose relationship with Merkel has been frosty at best, manages to hold on to his job.

What is clear is that Merkel’s fingerprints will be all over the EU’s roadmap through the next six months.

“This will be a very Merkel presidency, her swan song,” said the EU diplomat, adding that she would be using it “to craft her legacy”.

AFP

Macron Braces For Setback In French Local Polls

France To Extend Lockdown As Virus Deaths Soar In Europe, US
French president Emmanuel Macron takes part in a visioconference with World Health Organization (WHO) general director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Elysee Palace on april 8, 2020 in Paris. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

French people went to the polls wearing face masks Sunday for the final round of municipal elections expected to yield a low voter turnout and a rebuke for the party of President Emmanuel Macron.

The opening round was held amid high contagion anxiety on March 15 just as the COVID-19 epidemic was gaining deadly momentum, but the second phase, scheduled for March 22, was put off after France went into lockdown.

Despite a record abstention rate of 55 percent, the first round yielded a decisive outcome in some 85 percent, or 30,000, French communes.

This means political power remains up for grabs Sunday in about 5,000 undecided municipal councils including the key centres of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, and Strasbourg.

Some 16.5 million people are registered to cast a ballot, with those turning out required to wear a face mask and urged to bring their own pens to minimise coronavirus contagion risk.

Analysts expect the election will confirm that Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party — founded by the president ahead of his 2017 election win — has failed to gain a strong foothold at local level.

The party made lacklustre showings in March  — notably in Paris where Macron’s candidate, former health minister Agnes Buzyn, came third.

Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo is forecast to hold on to the capital in Sunday’s vote.

With a death toll approaching 30,000, France has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The country went into lockdown on March 17 — two days after the first election round.

Most restrictions have now been eased, but there is widespread anger at the government over shortages of protective equipment, including face masks, in the early stages of the pandemic.

– Cabinet reshuffle? –

During the outbreak, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe — an unshowy technocratic — saw his popularity rise to a level higher than that of Macron, who critics say is a president of the rich, out of touch with ordinary people

Paris is buzzing with speculation that a poor showing by the LREM Sunday could see Macron announce a major cabinet reshuffle, possibly axing Philippe, who campaigned to be mayor of the Normandy port city of Le Havre.

Holding two executive posts is allowed under French law.

“Although Macron has done a pretty good job of managing COVID-19, he has not been rewarded by his public,” said Mujtaba Rahman, Europe managing director for the Eurasia Group risk consultancy.

“A new prime minister, probably further to the left, would allow Macron to claim he is delivering on his promise to ensure the ‘second act’ of his presidency takes note of failings revealed by his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.”

With 22 months to go to the next presidential election, “Macron is also tempted to make the change because of Philippe’s soaring popularity,” Rahman said.

Macron’s main challenger at a national level is far-right leader Marine Le Pen of the National Rally (RN).

A poll by Harris Interactive Epoka on Friday showed that 44 percent of respondents had a favourable opinion of Macron but 51 percent were positive on Philippe, a jump of 13 points for the premier in a few months.

“There will not be any significant conquests for LREM,” said Emmanuel Riviere, a pollster with the Kantar Centre on the Future of Europe.

“This will deprive the ruling party of a territorial anchor that it could have depended on in future elections,” he said.

Despite an abysmal performance in the last presidential elections, France’s Socialists are expected to keep key regional centres, including Paris, where three women are vying for the top job.

– No vote in Guiana –

There will also be close attention on the green Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV) party, which has its eye on the Alpine hub of Grenoble as well as Strasbourg and Lyon.

In Marseille, leftist Michele Rubirola hopes to cause a sensation by taking France’s second city from the right after a quarter of a century of control.

For Le Pen’s RN, the big prize would be the southeastern city of Perpignan, which could become the stage for the first far-right takeover of a city of more than 100,000 inhabitants since Toulon in 1995.

The only region of France where the vote is not taking place is the overseas territory of Guiana in South America, where the pandemic is still deemed too active to proceed with the vote.

AFP

London Churchill Statue To Be Uncovered Before Macron Visit

The statue of former British prime minister Winston Churchill is cleaned in Parliament Square, central London on June 8, 2020, after being defaced, with the words (Churchill) “was a racist” written on it’s base by protesters at a demonstration on June 7, 2020, organised to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. – Most marches at the weekend were peaceful but there were flashes of violence, including in London, where the statue of World War II leader Winston Churchill in Parliament Square was defaced. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP.

 

The London statue of British wartime leader Winston Churchill that was controversially boxed up after anti-racism protests will be uncovered for a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, the mayor’s office said Wednesday.

“The covering around the Winston Churchill statue will be removed for the visit of President Macron to London,” said a spokesman for mayor Sadiq Khan.

Other monuments to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, and the Cenotaph war memorial were covered up in the wake of protests at the death of George Floyd during a police arrest in the United States.

The protection was put in place before a counter-demonstration last weekend, which saw far-right protesters fight running battles with the police.

Churchill’s statue became a target when it was daubed with graffiti branding him a racist because of his policies at the time of a 1943 famine in the Indian state of Bengal that left millions dead.

The Cenotaph was also targeted.

The boards around the Cenotaph were taken down on Monday but the coverings around the statues of Mandela and Gandhi will stay in place “under review”, said Khan’s office.

Macron’s visit coincides with the 80th anniversary of General Charles de Gaulle’s appeal to the French people, calling on them to resist the German World War II occupation of France.

A statue of the wartime French resistance leader was also recently targeted in the northern French town of Hautmont.

The defacing of Churchill’s statue and subsequent covering up sparked outrage in Britain, particularly from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has written a biography of his predecessor.

Johnson has said he “will resist with every breath in my body any attempt to remove that statue from Parliament Square, and the sooner his protective shielding comes off the better.”

He told parliament on Wednesday that “we are looking at new ways in which we may legislate against vandalism of war memorials”.

Reports have suggested long prison terms for the worst offenders.

AFP

Macron To Mark De Gaulle Wartime Speech With UK Trip

France To Extend Lockdown As Virus Deaths Soar In Europe, US
French president Emmanuel Macron takes part in a video conference with World Health Organization (WHO) general director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Elysee Palace on april 8, 2020 in Paris. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Britain on Thursday to mark 80 years since exiled wartime resistance leader Charles de Gaulle called on France not to give in to the Nazis.

Macron will look to underline the enduring importance of Anglo-French relations even after Brexit by looking back to de Gaulle’s dramatic appeal on June 18, 1940, made from BBC studios in London shortly after his evacuation from a defeated France.

But Macron, who is due to hold talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as meeting Prince Charles, will be unable to escape the shadow of Brexit as talks on the terms of Britain’s exit enter a tricky phase.

The trip will be Macron’s first outside France since the coronavirus crisis erupted in earnest. The French leader has been criticised in some quarters for his bellicose rhetoric on the virus, declaring that France was “at war” with COVID-19.

The situation has improved sufficiently for Macron to say that France could claim its “first victory”.

READ ALSO: Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

But the challenges remain unparalleled since World War II, with Macron along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel spearheading a 500 billion euro ($566 billion) rescue plan for Europe.

– Spared quarantine –

Macron, who displays de Gaulle’s war memoirs on his desk in his official photograph, is making much of 2020 as an anniversary year for the French resistance leader who would later become president of post-occupation France.

In May, he paid tribute to de Gaulle at the site of the 1940 Battle of Montcornet, one of few effective counter-attacks by French soldiers against the Nazis and where de Gaulle made his name as a military commander.

On November 9, Macron is to mark the 50th anniversary of the general’s death by visiting his final resting place in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises in eastern France.

Before heading to Britain, Macron will take part in the traditional annual ceremony at Mont Valerien outside Paris, a memorial for the French who fought against the Nazis and those who were killed by the occupying forces.

He will then travel to London, where his status as a visiting foreign dignitary will spare him the controversial two-week virus quarantine now demanded by the British authorities of all visitors from abroad, a move that has irritated Paris.

He will award the Legion of Honour to London, making it the seventh city to be decorated with France’s highest order of merit, after Algiers, Belgrade, Brazzaville, Liege, Luxembourg and Volgograd.

Britain, which left the EU in January, is negotiating a trade deal to govern relations after December 31, when it stops abiding by EU rules. Macron has on occasion expressed impatience with the drawn-out Brexit process.

– ‘Legendary hero’ –

In his radio broadcast from London, de Gaulle urged all those who could to carry on fighting for France, words that laid the foundation of the resistance movement and helped keep alive hope that France would be liberated, as it finally was in 1944.

“Has the last word been said? Should hope disappear? Is the defeat final? No! Believe me, I… tell you that nothing is lost for France,” he said.

De Gaulle’s iconic stature and his defiant wartime spirit are being tapped into even more during the unprecedented challenges posed by the epidemic.

In a telling reflection of his status, the vandalisation of a bust of the general in northern France this week was met with a torrent of outrage. The statue in Hautmont was daubed in orange paint and with the slogan “slaver”.

“De Gaulle was neither on the left nor on the right… He was above the parties,” said French historian Michel Winock, author of a book on de Gaulle.

But he was also simply “a legendary hero, the man of June 18, the defiant fighter who embodies an epic, glorious France, an incorruptible man who never mixed up public money and his own account”, Winock said.

AFP

Merkel, Macron Urge EU To Prepare For Next Pandemic

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a news conference following talks on European Union integration, defense and migration at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

France, Germany and four other EU countries on Tuesday urged the European Union to take a greater role in preparing for any future pandemic, conceding that coronavirus responses had fallen short.

There should be a “common European approach” to such challenges in future, wrote France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel along with the leaders of Spain, Poland, Belgium and Denmark.

They addressed their letter and policy paper to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, in the strongest attempt yet by the bloc’s most powerful leaders to spur the EU executive to fix the disunity displayed during the crisis, especially in its earliest days.

As the global outbreak first took hold, member states privileged national responses by shutting borders, hoarding medical supplies and waving through major spending plans regardless of EU rules.

READ ALSO: Elevated Extreme Poverty To Persist Through 2021 – World Bank

The letter put a special emphasis on the shortages of desperately needed medical supplies that were felt unevenly across the EU as the virus made its way across the continent.

“Understanding the shortcomings is essential,” the leaders wrote.

“These include a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), medical devices, critical medicines, and vaccines.”

The leaders also pressed Brussels to streamline data across the bloc so that rates of infection and other key figures matched from one country to the other.

They also urged the commission to provide a “strengthened mandate” for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, an EU agency.

Common procurement and better cooperation on maintaining critical stocks was another field the leaders urged the commission to study.

The leaders also called on Europe to work towards “diversifying supply lines”, in a veiled call to stop EU countries from relying too heavily on China or India.

“This includes identifying new trading partners with the aim to decrease the dependency of EU countries on single suppliers,” the paper said.

The 27 leaders of the European Union will be holding virtual talks on June 19 to discuss the fallout of the crisis.

AFP

 

French President Macron Calls For ‘Lasting’ Syria Ceasefire

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for Turkey and Russia to implement a lasting ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province in conversations with the two countries’ leaders, the Elysee said.

Moscow-backed Syrian forces have since December led a military offensive against the final major rebel stronghold, where Ankara supports some rebel groups.

Macron expressed his “very strong concern about the unfolding humanitarian crisis” to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to a statement released on Saturday.

He also warned of the risk terrorist groups would spread “because of the military offensive of the Syrian regime and its allies,” adding it undermined the 2018 Idlib agreement between Russia and Turkey to create a demilitarised zone in the northwestern province.

READ ALSO: Merkel, Macron, Johnson Agree To Work Towards ‘Reducing Tensions’ In Mideast

The accord has fallen apart as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces moved to recapture the last big region outside his control.

Macron said an “immediate halt to hostilities” is needed and called on Russia and Turkey to implement a “lasting and verifiable” ceasefire as outlined in that agreement.

Russia must “end its military offensive in northwest Syria and respect international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians, personnel and humanitarian access”, he added.

Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called for a summit with Erdogan and Putin to seek an end to the crisis.

AFP

Turkey Accuses Macron Of ‘Sponsoring Terrorism’ In Syria

File Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

Turkey on Thursday accused Emmanuel Macron of sponsoring terrorism in reaction to new criticism by the French president about Ankara’s operation in Syria.

Turkey last month launched an offensive against Kurdish-led forces in Syria, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said targeted the “terrorists” of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia and the Islamic State group.

But the move prompted criticism of Ankara that it was weakening the fight against dispersed IS elements with the operation against the YPG, which had been spearheading the fight against the jihadist group.

Macron, who has repeatedly criticised the Turkish offensive, said on Thursday that Ankara had presented its allies with a “fait accompli” that endangered the anti-IS coalition’s action.

Macron’s comments sparked a sharp reaction from Ankara, which accuses Paris of seeking to establish a Kurdish state in Syria.

“In any case, he (Macron) is sponsoring the terrorist organisation, he receives them regularly at the Elysee (presidential palace),” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by state news agency Anadolu.

Ankara views the YPG as an offshoot of the Kurdish PKK, which has fought an insurgency inside Turkey for the past 35 years and is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

“Let Macron not forget… Turkey is also a member of NATO. That it stands by its allies,” he added.

Earlier Thursday, after talks with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Paris, a combative Macron took aim at Turkey over its unilateral decision to attack the YPG.

“I respect the security interests of our Turkish ally, which has suffered numerous attacks on its soil,” Macron said.

“But you cannot, on the one hand, say we are allies and demand solidarity in that regard and on the other hand present your allies with the fait accompli of a military operation that endangers the actions of the anti-IS coalition of which NATO is a member.”

Turkey’s Erdogan Calls Macron’s NATO Comments ‘Unacceptable’

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Wednesday slammed as “unacceptable” recent remarks on NATO by French leader Emmanuel Macron, who claimed the alliance was experiencing “brain death” and deplored Turkey’s actions in Syria.

Hosting his counterpart in the Oval Office, US President Donald Trump said Erdogan was “very disappointed in the statement made by France” regarding NATO.

“I think that bothered the president very much,” Trump said. “I think a lot of other people feel that way too.”

“Unacceptable,” added the Turkish leader, speaking through an interpreter.

In an interview earlier this month, the French president decried what he called a lack of coordination between Europe and the United States and lamented recent unilateral action in Syria by Turkey, a NATO member.

“You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None,” Macron told The Economist.

“You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake,” he added.

Turkey’s latest military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria was staunchly opposed by fellow NATO members like France, but made possible by a withdrawal of US forces ordered by Trump.

In the interview, Macron asked what NATO’s mutual self-defense pact, enshrined in Article 5 of its founding treaty, might mean in the future, and pondered whether it could be invoked if President Bashar al-Assad’s forces retaliate against Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria.

Macron also said that while “it’s not in our interest” to expel Turkey from the alliance — as has been urged by some politicians — members states should “reconsider what NATO is.”

Moscow Hails Macron For Calling NATO Brain Dead

FILE PHOTO OF PRESIDENT MACRON/ FRANCE TELEVISIONS / AFP

 

NATO partners argued Thursday over the alliance’s worth after French President Emmanuel Macron said it was undergoing “brain death”, prompting a fierce defence of the bloc from Germany, Canada and the US while drawing praise from non-member Russia.

“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron told The Economist magazine in an interview published Thursday, ahead of a NATO summit next month.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the 70-year-old military alliance as “indispensable” and said Macron’s “sweeping judgements” were not “necessary”.

Addressing journalists by Merkel’s side, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned that a weakened transatlantic alliance could “divide Europe”, while the US Secretary of State, also in Germany, insisted NATO was “important, critical.”

In the interview, Macron decried a lack of coordination between Europe and the US and lamented recent unilateral action in Syria by Turkey, a key member of the 70-year-old military alliance.

“You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None,” he said.

“You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake,” Macron added according to an English transcript released by The Economist.

After talks with Stoltenberg in Berlin, Merkel said Macron “used drastic words, that is not my view of cooperation in NATO”.

She added: “I don’t think that such sweeping judgements are necessary, even if we have problems and need to pull together”, while insisting that “the transatlantic partnership is indispensable for us”.
We have a problem’ –
Stoltenberg said any attempt to distance Europe from North America “risks not only to weaken the Alliance, the transatlantic bond, but also to divide Europe”.

In a recent setback for the alliance, a Turkish military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria was staunchly opposed by fellow members like France, but made possible by a withdrawal of US forces ordered by President Donald Trump.

For Macron, “strategically and politically, we need to recognise that we have a problem”.

“We should reassess the reality of what NATO is in light of the commitment of the United States,” he warned, adding that: “In my opinion, Europe has the capacity to defend itself.”

Stoltenberg said he welcomed efforts to strengthen European defence, “but European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity. We need to stand together.”

Pompeo, on a visit to the German city of Leipzig as part of anniversary events for the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, agreed.

“I think NATO remains an important, critical, perhaps historically one of the most critical strategic partnerships in all of recorded history,” he told journalists.

In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters the alliance continues to play “an extremely important role in not just the North Atlantic but in the world.”

Macron, Merkel Call For End To Turkish Offensive In Syria

 

The leaders of France and Germany called Sunday for an end to Turkey’s offensive against Kurds in northern Syria, warning of dire humanitarian consequences and a boost for the Islamic State group.

Emmanuel Macron hosted Angela Merkel in Paris for a working dinner amid turmoil stirred up by Ankara’s attack and Britain’s pending exit from the European Union, both issues on the leaders’ agenda.

Macron told reporters the pair had spoken separately Sunday with US President Donald Trump and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to deliver a single, clear message: “Our common wish is that the offensive must cease.”

“Our conviction… is that this offensive risks, and we see it already on the ground, to create unbearable humanitarian situations on one hand and on the other help IS re-emerge in the region,” he said at a joint press conference with the chancellor.

Merkel said she had spoken to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan for an hour and told him: “We must put an end to this Turkish invasion.

“There are humanitarian reasons for this,” she said, adding: “We can no longer accept this situation against the Kurds. Another solution must absolutely be found.”

Fighting has engulfed northern Syria since Wednesday when Ankara launched a long-threatened offensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which it considers “terrorists” linked to insurgents in Turkey.

Trump has been accused of abandoning a loyal ally in the fight against IS after ordering American troops to pull back from the border region.

At least 60 civilians have been killed in raids by Turkey and its proxies — Syrian ex-rebels, according to observers.

The UN says the violence has forced 130,000 people to flee their homes.

Arms Sales Stopped

France and Germany on Saturday suspended weapons exports to Turkey, amid international condemnation that had already seen Finland, Norway and The Netherlands stopping arms sales to Ankara.

A meeting in Luxembourg Monday of the European Union’s foreign affairs committee will discuss a coordinated European approach to the issue.

Macron has also called a French defence council meeting, involving Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and the ministers of justice, foreign affairs, defence and the interior, for Sunday night.

The French president called for a stronger, more unified Europe in what he described as “difficult and sometimes worrying” times for the continent and the world.

One reason for this is Brexit — Britain’s exit from the European Union by a 31 October deadline with so far no “divorce deal” in place.

“We are about to lose a member and we will see how the discussions, which have advanced this weekend, will be finalised,” said Macron.

“In this context, it is very clear to me that we can allow ourselves neither division nor self-deception nor weakness.”

Rebuff

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday played down hopes of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an exit deal with Europe.

On Monday, Macron will host European Council President Donald Tusk for a working lunch at the Elysee presidential residence, before heading to Toulouse in the south of France to lead a French-German ministers meeting with Merkel on issues of defence, security, and climate change.

On Wednesday evening, they will meet the EU’s incoming president Ursula von der Leyen, followed on Thursday and Friday by an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels.

One issue likely to come up is the rejection by European MEPs of Sylvie Goulard, Macron’s chosen candidate for the European Commission portfolio of industrial policy, defence spending, high-tech and space — a rebuff considered a major political blow to the French president.

“I believe very deeply that in this moment in particular, Europe cannot allow itself the luxury of vengeance, of small disputes, or to add internal crises to the tensions of the world already affecting us,” he said Sunday.

“Our strength is in our unity.”

Iran Foreign Minister Makes Surprise Visit To G7 Summit

 

 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif flew into Biarritz in southwestern France for the G7 summit on Sunday in a surprise attempt to break a diplomatic deadlock over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme.

Zarif’s presence had not been announced and represented a gamble by French host Emmanuel Macron who is seeking to soothe spiralling tensions between Iran and the United States.

The Iranian top diplomat did not hold talks with US President Donald Trump in the French surf town, French diplomats said, but the presence of the two men in the same place sparked hopes of a detente.

“Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying,” the US-educated Zarif wrote on Twitter after meeting Macron and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as well as British and German officials.

French officials said Trump had been aware of the arrival and suggested that it had been discussed during an impromptu two-hour lunch with Macron on a hotel terrace on Saturday.

“We work with full transparency with the Americans,” one diplomat told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Robert Malley, head of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, said that it was a sign that Trump had given “some positive response” to Macron’s proposals for a deal.

“Maybe President Trump told President Macron privately that he was open to some of these ideas,” he told AFP.

“The big caveat, the elephant in the room, is that there is considerable room between what President Trump says and what he thinks one day, and what he says and thinks the next,” he added.

Also speaking in Biarritz, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Trump had in the past said that if Iran “wants to sit down and negotiate he will not set preconditions.”

French officials said the discussions had been “positive” and Zarif left the beach-side gathering in the evening.

– ‘Moving in right direction’ –
Macron had held talks with Zarif in Paris on the eve of the G7 summit and has been leading efforts to bring Tehran and Washington back to the negotiating table.

Trump’s policy of applying “maximum pressure” on Tehran via crippling sanctions has been criticised by European powers and is seen as raising the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

At the end of July, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on Zarif, saying he “spreads the regime’s propaganda and disinformation.”

Macron has urged the US administration to offer some sort of relief to Iran, such as lifting sanctions on oil sales to China and India, or a new credit line to enable exports.

In return, Iran would return to complying with a landmark 2015 deal limiting its nuclear programme, which Trump unilaterally pulled out from last year, Malley explained.

“I suspect that they (the French) are as cautious as I am,” Malley added.

Speaking to AFP last week, Zarif said that Macron’s suggestions were “moving in the right direction, although we are not definitely there yet.”

Zarif was a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal reached between Iran, the United States, European powers, Russia and China.

– Trade war doubts? –
The G7 leaders, spouses and other invitees from South America and Africa wrapped up their long day with a group photo on a stage overlooking the Biarritz beach, with the city’s tall lighthouse in the background.

They were all smiles and Trump proclaimed that the G7 summit had been going “beautifully.”

However, there was no masking over cracks between the US president and his allies on many issues.

Leaders of the G7 countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — put on a united front as they spent a second day in the high-end French surfing town of Biarritz.

Trump arrived in Biarritz fresh from having drastically upped the ante in the trade war with China.

European leaders lined up to press for caution and on Sunday Trump gave a glimmer of hope that he was reconsidering his all-or-nothing approach to the dispute between the world’s two biggest economies.

Asked whether he was having second thoughts about the trade war, Trump, in a rare moment of public self-doubt, replied: “I have second thoughts about everything.”

Then in an extraordinary turnaround, Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said just hours later that the president had been misunderstood.

He did have regrets, she said, but not what everyone thought.

“He regrets not raising the tariffs higher,” she explained.

At a breakfast meeting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the latest of the G7 partners to urge Trump to step back from a trade war that critics fear could tip the world economy into recession.

“Just to register a faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war — we are in favour of trade peace on the whole,” Johnson told Trump.

The meeting with Johnson, who is sometimes seen as a British version of the populist, nationalist Trump, underlined the White House’s dislike for the powerful European Union.

Trump predicted that Johnson would manage to untangle the mess of Brexit and described the EU as “an anchor around their ankle.”

The 73-year-old US leader then promised Johnson a “very big trade deal, bigger than we’ve ever had.”