Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made an impromptu visit to the city hosting the Group of Seven summit Sunday, a surprise move that caught President Donald Trump off-guard and added another element of tension to the meeting of world economic leaders.

Zarif's arrival in Biarritz appeared to be a covert initiative by Macron, a senior European official said, and other leaders were not warned ahead of time. There was no immediate plan for him to meet anyone other than French officials, the officials said.

Trump, whose antics often leave other world leaders searching for words, had little to say about the unexpected guest.

"No comment," Trump told reporters when asked about news that Zarif was coming to town.

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Zarif came to Biarritz on the invitation of his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi wrote on Twitter. The aim of the visit is to "continue discussions about recent initiatives between the presidents of Iran and France," he said. And he said that there would be no meetings or negotiations with the American delegation during the trip.

Zarif's only confirmed meeting in Biarritz was with Le Drian, a French diplomat said, speaking under ground rules of anonymity.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif came to Biarritz on the invitation of his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian. Photo / AP
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif came to Biarritz on the invitation of his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian. Photo / AP

White House officials have complained for weeks that Macron was trying to forcefully broker talks between the Trump administration and Iran, which the U.S. president has branded a "number one terrorist nation."

French officials have said that Trump's "maximum pressure" approach to Iran is doomed to fail. They have sought to convince the White House to change course and accept a new deal with the Iranians.

As part of Trump's pressure campaign - which has involved a mix of sanctions and public threats aimed at crippling Iran's economy - the Trump administration recently imposed sanctions and travel restrictions on Zarif.

The foreign minister's plane landing in Biarritz - at the invitation of the French president during a summit of world leaders - was a symbolic illustration of how isolated the Trump administration has become in its approach to Iran.

Even as Iranian forces have stepped up their aggression by seizing several tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, European leaders have sought to maintain the nuclear deal without the U.S. Zarif's impromptu visit to the G-7 site appeared to be an unconventional gambit aimed at breaking the logjam.

President Donald Trump and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. Leaders broadly agreed that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Photo / AP
President Donald Trump and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. Leaders broadly agreed that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Photo / AP

Previous discussions on Iran during the summit have shown little progress, as leaders could not even publicly agree about the terms of their talks.

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Trump claimed Sunday to have not discussed a joint approach to Iran, even though French officials insisted an agreement had been reached between each of the leaders Saturday night.

"I haven't discussed that," Trump said. "We will do our own outreach, but I can't stop people from talking. If they want to talk they can talk."

Trump administration officials have previously criticised the French for talking to Iran.

When leaders discussed Iran over dinner on Saturday, they broadly agreed that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and that they should work to de-escalate the current crisis, according to officials briefed on the closed-door talks.

Macron also pushed Trump to allow Iran to export a limited amount of oil - an effort that is a non-starter with the White House.

Zarif's sudden arrival in Biarritz took at least some of the other delegations by surprise, even those who are aligned with France in their commitment to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, according to a senior European official.

The official said it was not immediately clear why Zarif had been invited, calling it "a flashy move."

Because the Iranian diplomat was parachuting into an already packed weekend, it was unclear what his presence would accomplish, unless it was a French effort to jump-start U.S.-Iran talks by putting Trump and Zarif in the same small city to see whether a fire could be kindled.

The G7 meeting underway in Biarritz, France. Photo / AP
The G7 meeting underway in Biarritz, France. Photo / AP

Zarif was in Paris on Friday for discussions with Macron and other French officials.

Zarif's arrival in Biarritz appeared to take the State Department by surprise as well. A spokeswoman, noting the agency's absence from the summit, referred questions to the White House.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has complained that Zarif has made media appearances to spread Iranian "propaganda" against the U.S. Zarif has publicly criticized the Trump administration after it pulled out of a multilateral agreement aimed at restricting Iran's nuclear capabilities.

"The US' reason for designating me is that I am Iran's 'primary spokesperson around the world'," Zarif tweeted last month after the sanctions were announced. "Is the truth really that painful? It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran. Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda."

In recent weeks, Zarif has been meeting with other world leaders, including Macron, about the nuclear issue. Zarif tweeted pictures of himself shaking hands with top officials and sought to contrast his embrace of diplomacy with the Trump administration's unilateral pressure campaign.

"Despite US efforts to destroy diplomacy, met with French President @EmmanuelMacron and @JY_LeDriane in Paris today," he tweeted on Friday. "Interviewed with Euronews, AFP, & France24. Multilateralism must be preserved. Next stops Beijing, Tokyo & KL after a day in Tehran."

He did not mention that he would be stopping in Biarritz.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated that Trump might be willing to meet with Zarif.

"The president has said before that to the extent that Iran wants to sit down and negotiate we would not set preconditions to those negotiations," he told reporters in France on Sunday.

He declined to comment further.