A dramatic break at the G7 summit

Donald Trump has called for Russia to be readmitted to the G7 club of world leaders, opening up a new rift with Europe at the start of an acrimonious summit in Québec.

The US president argued that Russia’s suspension from the then G8 in 2014, after it annexed Crimea, should be reversed for pragmatic reasons.

It marks a dramatic break from the position of Washington’s main European allies and parts of Trump’s own administration, who insist Moscow must abide by a peace accord in Ukraine before normal relations are resumed.

His call won support from the newest attendee, the incoming Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, who tweeted: “I agree with President [Trump]. Russia should re-enter the G8. It is in the interests of all.”

However, it contradicts the tougher policies advocated by the UK, Germany and France, and cuts across Theresa May’s initiative at the summit to create a rapid response unit to combat state-sponsored aggression, such as cyber-attacks and the poisoning of dissidents, which was drafted with Russia principally in mind.

Trump’s call was promptly dismissed by European leaders.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, said: “The common decision of the G7 was to exclude Russia from the G8 format. It can of course be discussed but … we have to respect the principles of the European Union, which is that European states like Russia have to respect international order and the international rule of law.”

The Russian government also appeared wary, with the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, saying in a brief statement: “Russia is focused on other formats, apart from the G7.”

Trump’s comments – coming at a time when his election campaign is under investigation for possible links with Moscow – raised eyebrows in Washington.

“This is weak,” Ben Sasse, a Republican senator from Nebraska, said in a swiftly issued statement. “Putin is not our friend and he is not the president’s buddy. He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America, and our leaders should act like it.”

John McCain, the chairman of the Senate armed services committee, said: “The president has inexplicably shown our adversaries the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies. Those nations that share our values and have sacrificed alongside us for decades are being treated with contempt. This is the antithesis of so-called ‘principled realism’ and a sure path to diminishing America’s leadership in the world.”

Tensions were already high before the two-day summit in the resort town of La Malbaie, after a public dispute about trade between Trump and his French and Canadian counterparts, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau.

“Why are we having the meeting without Russia being in the meeting?” Trump asked reporters on his way to the summit.

“Russia should be in the meeting, it should be a part of it. You know, whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run and the G7, which used to be the G8 – they threw Russia out – they should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

At stake at the summit is the prospect of the current bout of tit-for-tat tariffs between the major western economies turning into an unrestrained international trade war.

The tone in the immediate run-up to the meetings at La Malbaie showed no sign of compromise between a US president determined to disrupt the status quo to force more favourable terms for his country, and six US allies resolved to stop him. Trump is due to leave La Malbaie early, missing sessions on climate change and the health of the oceans, to meet the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in Singapore.

A planned meeting between Trump and Macron on Friday morning was postponed due to the former’s late arrival. White House officials said they were trying to reschedule the bilateral for later in the day. Apart from plenary summit sessions, Trump was due to meet Trudeau in the early evening.

Trump sparred with other G7 leaders over trade well into Thursday night, accusing the EU and Canada of unfair business practices, and then resumed his polemic around 6am US time, complaining about Canadian dairy tariffs.

“Looking forward to straightening out unfair Trade Deals with the G7 countries,” Trump tweeted. “If it doesn’t happen, we come out even better!”

Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, said the summit would be “far from easy”.

“What worries me most is the fact that the rules-based international order is being challenged, quite surprisingly not by the usual suspects, but by its main architect and guarantor, the US,” Tusk said at a press conference in La Malbaie.

“We will not stop trying to convince President Trump that undermining this order makes no sense at all, because it will only play into the hands of those who seek a new post-west order, where liberal democracy and fundamental freedoms would cease to exist. This is in the interest of neither the US nor Europe.”

On Thursday, Macron berated Trump for imposing unilateral tariffs on imported steel and aluminium rather than going through international arbitration, and for walking out of a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran.

“The risk is to create a world of survival of the fittest. That is not good for us nor for any of our friends in the world,” Macron tweeted. “Tensions are mounting everywhere. This G7 is going to be demanding.”

Macron called on other G7 leaders not to water down a joint communique at the end of the summit, at the expense of shared values, simply in an effort to win Trump’s signature, saying that a “G6 plus one” outcome was possible.

He called on the other G7 members to resist what he described as a potential US drift towards “further isolationism and crude hegemony”.

“The six other countries of the G7 represent a market which is bigger than the American market,” the French president said.

At last year’s summit in Sicily, the leaders signed a communique, but the statement made clear there were deep differences on the Paris climate accord.

“The American president may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a six-country agreement if need be,” Macron said, adding that US workers would be the first to suffer from a trade war between Europe and the US.

The White House announced on Friday that Trump would leave the summit at 10.30am local time on Saturday, barely into the second day of business.

by Julian Borger


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