WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron (left) and US President Donald Trump meet in the Oval Office during a state visit to the White House yesterday. - AFP

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron and his American counterpart Donald Trump called jointly yesterday for a new nuclear deal with Iran, after the US leader denounced the three-year-old accord as "insane". "I can say that we have had very frank discussions on that, just the two of us," Macron told a joint press conference with Trump at his side. "We, therefore, wish from now on to work on a new deal with Iran."

Trump earlier launched into an angry tirade against the three-year old nuclear accord as he hosted the French president in the Oval Office. "People know my views on the Iran deal. It was a terrible deal. It should have never ever been made," Trump railed. "It's insane. It's ridiculous." Trump's European allies have repeatedly tried to persuade him not to walk away from the 2015 deal, which gave Iran massive sanctions relief and the guarantee of a civilian nuclear program in return for curbs on programs that could be used to develop an atomic weapon. It did not tackle Western complaints about Iran's ballistic missile programs or support for militant groups across the Middle East.

Trump faces a May 12 deadline to decide on its fate and is demanding changes that many in European capitals believe would represent a legal breach. "I think we will have a great shot at doing a much bigger, maybe, deal," said Trump, stressing that any new deal would have to be built on "solid foundations". "This is a deal with decayed foundations. It's a bad deal, it's a bad structure. It's falling down," the US leader said. "We're going to see what happens on the 12th."

When asked to clarify if he meant he was pushing for a new accord, or an add-on agreement, Macron said: "I'm not saying that we move from one agreement to another." The French president said a new deal would have to include three additional elements: Tehran's ballistic missile program, its influence across the Middle East, and what happens after 2025 - when under the current accord Iran would be able to progressively restart part of its nuclear program. He called the initial 2015 deal only the "first pillar" of an eventual wider deal.

For months, American and European officials have been working behind the scenes to try to find a compromise over Trump's demands to change the agreement. Officials have toyed with the idea of a separate joint declaration: Promising to tackle non-nuclear issues, while searching for a tougher successor accord. Iran, meanwhile, has warned it will ramp up enrichment activities if Trump walks away from the accord, prompting Trump to issue a blunt warning. "They're not going to be restarting anything. If they restart it, they're going to have big problems, bigger than they ever had before. And you can mark it down," the US president said.

Meanwhile, Trump praised Kim Jong Un as "very open" and "very honorable" yesterday, adding the North Korean leader wants to meet "as soon as possible". "We are having very good discussions," Trump said, ahead of a summit with the mercurial Kim expected sometime before the end of June. "He really has been very open, I think - very honorable. Now, a lot of promises have been made by North Korea over the years, but they have never been in this position," added the US leader as he hosted Macron at the White House.

"We have been told directly that they would like to have the meeting as soon as possible," Trump said, adding: "We think that's a great thing for the world. We'll see where that will all go." Trump also reiterated that he would walk away from the talks with North Korea if they are not fruitful. "Unlike past administrations, I will leave the table," he said. "But I think we have the chance to do something very special."

North Korea pledged last week to halt nuclear and missile tests as it prepares for a summit between Kim and Trump, but has not committed to giving up its atomic weapons - which Pyongyang views as a shield against the Western overthrow of its government. Kim is set to meet later this week with South Korean President Moon Jae-in - the highest-level encounter yet in the whirlwind of nuclear diplomacy. - Agencies