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Tariffs, taxes and nuclear weapons are big topics at the G-20 summit

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

In early 2020, Italy's empty streets and overwhelmed hospitals showed the world just how devastating COVID-19 was going to be. Now, this weekend, Italy is hosting the first in-person G-20 summit since the pandemic began, and the pandemic was certainly a main focus at the gathering of the world's biggest economies with discussions about supply chains and vaccine distribution. Also on President Biden's agenda was this issue of easing a tariff war with Europe and restarting a nuclear deal with Iran. My fellow White House correspondent Scott Detrow has been traveling with President Biden, and joins us now from Rome. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Asma. Happy Halloween.

KHALID: Thank you. And I guess it's not morning for you. I know you've had a long trip, a long day, but let's just start with the tariff announcement. President Biden certainly surprised some European leaders by keeping these Trump-era tariffs in place during the beginning of his presidency. So, what was the deal here?

DETROW: Yeah, this focuses on those steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump imposed on the EU in 2018. They are going to remain in place nominally, but the U.S. is going to allow a certain amount of aluminum and steel produced in the EU to enter into the U.S. markets tariff-free. Now, officials did not have the exact details on what that new quota would be when they told us about it. But this is clearly a way to strike a balance between trying to ease cost and trade tensions but keep some protections for American manufacturers. And the EU response here is big, too. It is going to back off those retaliatory tariffs that have been slapped on American retail products that had really targeted high-profile products like bourbon and motorcycles, among other things.

KHALID: Yeah.

DETROW: Again, the details aren't out yet, but this is a big step back toward a less adversarial trade relationship and something that many European leaders thought was pretty overdue.

KHALID: Yeah. So, Scott, to move on to President Biden's meeting with the leaders of Britain, France and Germany to discuss Iran - the president wanted to return to the Iran deal, but that goal has been difficult. So what's changed now?

DETROW: Yeah, that's one of many deals that Trump killed that Biden wants to try to save. Sounds like a theme of this week, you know? But this is a lot trickier than tariffs, though, because those sanctions Trump reimposed after pulling out of the deal crippled Iran's economy. Iran responded by ramping up enrichment efforts and other activities likely aimed at building a nuclear weapon, though Iran has always denied that that is the goal. There had been some (clears throat) - pardon me - again, long trip.

KHALID: No worries, Scott. I know - long trip, long few days. We appreciate it.

DETROW: There have been some initial tentative talks this year, but they fell apart. And then earlier this week, Iran - an Iranian official said the country wanted to go back to the negotiating table soon. So Biden, Angela Merkel of Germany, Boris Johnson of the U.K. and Emmanuel Macron, president of France, figured since they'll all be in the same place, they would use this opportunity to take stock, decide what to do with this opening.

KHALID: Scott, can you tell us briefly more any details about what they decided?

DETROW: Yeah, and just some more context - an administration official made this interesting admission speaking to reporters beforehand, saying most meetings of these types of summits are scripted. The outcome is already determined. Now, we mostly know this, but it was striking to hear an official say that out loud.

KHALID: Certainly, yeah.

DETROW: Yeah, but so he said - the official said that this meeting was really a true chance to see how everyone felt about this. And afterwards, the leaders put out the statement opening a door to renew talks but making it clear Iran needs to stop this enrichment activity. They said this current escalation in tensions and breakdown of talk underscores the importance of negotiations. And they support the U.S. complying again, which means lowering back sanctions. But the key quote was, "this will only be possible if Iran changes course." And they are urged - Iran's new administration - to return to a good-faith effort.

KHALID: Scott, we've only got about, you know, 30 seconds or so left, but I do want to talk about something that has come up in the lead-up to the summit. This was this focus on finalizing an international agreement for a global minimum tax of 15%. Did that come up?

DETROW: It did and was fully endorsed by the leaders. And this is a big win for the Biden administration. It's a wonky topic, but it would be a big shift if it's fully implemented. The key thing is it would cut back on these trends of recent decades of companies exploiting lower tax rates around the world and paying little or sometimes hardly any taxes in their home countries. So that's a big win for Biden.

KHALID: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow, traveling with the president, joining us from Rome. Thanks so much, Scott.

DETROW: Sure thing.

KHALID: All right. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.