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Trump calls Iran deal 'a disaster'

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From right: President Trump, President Macron, Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron during a state welcome at the White House in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.

Washington

US President Donald Trump pilloried the Iran nuclear deal as "a disaster" and "insane" as he hosted French President Emmanuel Macron in the Oval Office on Tuesday, puncturing a carefully choreographed display of pomp and camaraderie.

The US leader groused that the accord - inked three years ago by the United States, Iran, Europe, Russia and China - does nothing to tackle Teheran's ballistic missiles programme or support for militant groups across the Middle East.

Mr Macron is in Washington, in part, to convince Mr Trump not to walk away from the deal and scuttle years-worth of hard won diplomatic gains. Mr Trump faces a May 12 deadline to decide on the fate of the accord.

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Iran says it is ready to relaunch its nuclear programme - which the West suspects is designed to produce a bomb - if Mr Trump kills the deal.

European officials say Mr Trump's demand to reopen the deal are impossible, and are scrambling to address his concerns on Teheran's missile testing, inspections and the regime's behaviour in the region.

Another issue with the potential to wreck already fragile trans-Atlantic relations are biting trade sanctions on European steel and aluminium which will enter into force on May 1 unless Mr Trump agrees to sign a waiver. If he refuses, there are fears of a full-fledged trade war.

There is growing frustration in European capitals that Mr Trump's stubbornness over the Obama-era agreement is diverting attention away from other pressing issues.

In an interview broadcast on the eve of his arrival, Mr Macron went on Mr Trump's favourite television channel, Fox News, to make his pitch.

"If you make war against everybody," Mr Macron said, "trade war against Europe, war in Syria, war against Iran - come on - it doesn't work. You need allies. We are the allies."

Mr Macron will also be keen to temper Mr Trump's instinct to precipitously pull the US military out of Syria, amid cooperation in fighting the Islamic State group and coordinated strikes on chemical weapons installations operated by Damascus.

"I think the US role is very important to play," he said. "Why? I will be very blunt. The day we will have finished this war against ISIS, if we leave, definitely and totally, even from a political point of view, we will leave the floor to the Iranian regime, Bashar al-Assad and these guys."

Before getting the full red carpet treatment at the White House on Monday - payback for wooing Mr Trump with military parades and a dazzling Eiffel Tower dinner in Paris last July - Mr Macron took an impromptu stroll to the Lincoln Memorial with his wife Brigitte.

Hailing the "very important" visit, Mr Macron then rolled into the West Wing from Lafayette Square - named after the storied French general who fought in America's war for independence - beneath dozens of fluttering tricolour French flags and before a full US military colour guard.

Waiting at the door, the US president smiled and held out his hand for Mr Macron to shake, and the French leader kissed him on both cheeks.

Later, the first couples had dinner at Mount Vernon, the mansion that was the home of George Washington, the first US president.They talked about the state of the US economy, Mr Trump's approval rating, the mid-term elections in November in the US, Internet regulation and the fight against Islamist terror, according to the French leader's office.

Mr Trump is deeply unpopular in France and Mr Macron, like other world leaders - from Japan's Shinzo Abe to Britain's Theresa May - is under growing pressure to show voters the benefits of his courtship with the 71-year-old Republican. AFP