Trump Attends G-7 with Defiance, Proposing to Readmit Russia

The conference of industrialized nations, known as the Group of 7, was the Group of 8 before Russia was expelled after annexing Crimea in 2014.

LA MALBAIE, Quebec — President Trump aggressively confronted America’s closest allies on Friday as they convened their annual summit meeting, calling for Russia’s readmission to the Group of 7 nations and refusing to ease his assault on the global trading system.

The response from the leaders of Europe, Canada and Japan was swift and angry. Most rejected the return of Russia, which was ousted from the diplomatic forum after President Vladimir V. Putin violated international norms by seizing parts of Ukraine in 2014. And they assailed Mr. Trump’s embrace of protectionism as illegal and insulting.

At a meeting devised for cooperation and comity, public smiles and descriptions of “cordial” conversations were undercut by what officials said was a struggle to agree on a common direction. The likelihood grew that the United States could be frozen out of a joint statement of principles by the countries that have so often followed America’s lead.

“The rules-based international order is being challenged, quite surprisingly, not by the usual suspects, but by its main architect and guarantor, the U.S.,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said as the summit meeting got underway in Quebec’s picturesque resort town of La Malbaie on the banks of the St. Lawrence River.

The trans-Atlantic rift manifested itself in a behind-the-scenes debate about the wording of the traditional summit communiqué. The American side objected to including the phrase “rules-based international order,” even though it is boilerplate for such statements, according to two people briefed on the deliberations. The Europeans and Canadians were pushing back, but it remained unclear whether the Trump administration would ultimately sign the statement or be left on its own.

The behind-the-scenes dispute over language sharpened the sense of isolation for the American president at a conference that some have branded the “G-6 plus 1,” a snide reference to Mr. Trump. By the end of a long day of meetings, American officials said they still hoped to find some way to a common statement.

In brief remarks ahead of one-on-one meetings with President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Mr. Trump bragged about his good relationships and said he thought an agreement was still possible, but he also made telling jokes about the serious tensions that have been all-too evident for weeks.

When Mr. Trudeau was asked if he was disappointed that Mr. Trump had decided to leave early from the meeting on Saturday, Mr. Trump grinned, said, “He’s happy,” and playfully stuck out his tongue at the assembled reporters.



Macron, Trudeau and Merkel At Odds With Trump

The leaders of France, Canada and Germany pushed back against President Trump’s trade policies ahead of the G-7 summit meeting.

Today, we find ourselves the target of punitive tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel, under pretext of a 232 national security provision. Let me be clear: These tariffs are totally unacceptable. The American administration has made a decision today that we deplore and obviously is going to lead to retaliatory measures, as it must. But we regret that.

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The leaders of France, Canada and Germany pushed back against President Trump’s trade policies ahead of the G-7 summit meeting.CreditCredit...Yves Herman/Reuters

Mr. Trump was already at odds with his counterparts before arriving Friday morning with a defiant swagger. In a series of posts on Twitter just before departing Washington, Mr. Trump railed against Canadian tariffs on American dairy products and promised to fight “unfair Trade Deals” with other nations.

“If it doesn’t happen, we come out even better!” he wrote with his usual bluster.

The president skirmished with the leaders of Canada and France in ways that foreshadowed a gathering crackling with tension over trade, Iran and Mr. Trump’s sharp-edged approach to foreign policy. He then abruptly announced that he would skip the end of the session on Saturday.

Upon Mr. Trump’s arrival, the president and his counterparts worked to present a show of camaraderie. Mr. Trump greeted Mr. Trudeau warmly, and the friendly body language between them betrayed none of the simmering animosity over trade.

The display of comity continued during the official “family photo,” when the seven leaders posed for the cameras. Later, Mr. Macron tweeted a video showing him sitting with Mr. Trump on a couch, talking amiably. “Pursuing the conversation. Engaging, keeping the dialogue alive, now & ever,” Mr. Macron wrote.

White House officials said late Friday that the meeting with Mr. Macron was “productive” while the session with Mr. Trudeau was “great.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Trump and Mr. Trudeau “and their delegations are close to a deal on Nafta, but there was discussion of a bilateral deal.” She declined to elaborate on what she meant.

But nothing the leaders said Friday suggested that anyone was willing to concede defeat in the interest of repairing the damage to the relationship between Mr. Trump and the others.

In a meeting with Mr. Macron, Mr. Trump insisted that “nothing’s easy” while Mr. Macron described his conversations with the president as “very open and direct.” In a meeting with Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Trump said again that he favored an overhaul of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“It could be that Nafta will be a different form,” Mr. Trump said as Mr. Trudeau simply smiled.

But it was the president’s Russia suggestion — which seemingly came out of nowhere — that promised to heighten the animosities, creating yet another schism between Mr. Trump and the six leaders he was meeting.

“Russia should be in this meeting. Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting?” Mr. Trump said in impromptu remarks to reporters at the White House as he walked to Marine One. “You know, whether you like it or not — and it may not be politically correct — but we have a world to run. And in the G-7, which used to be the G-8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in. Because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

Credit...Pool photo by Greg Baker

In a blunt retort to Mr. Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain told Sky News on Friday that Russia would have to change its behavior before she would support welcoming the country back into the diplomatic fold.

“The phrase I’ve used is engage but beware,” she said. “Let’s remember why the G-8 became the G-7,” a reference to Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, most notably its 2014 seizure of the Crimean peninsula that was widely denounced internationally. “And before discussions could begin on any of this, we would have to ensure Russia is amending its ways and taking a different route.”

Mr. Trump and officials with the other governments said the Russia conversation did not dominate the day’s meetings, even as it was clear that Britain, Germany and other members of the Group of 7 were unlikely to go along with Mr. Trump’s suggestion.

He did win some support from Italy. “I agree with President @realDonaldTrump: Russia should return to the G8,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wrote on Twitter in Italian. “It is in everyone’s interest.”

American foreign policy veterans, on the other hand, said the president’s suggestion underscored his isolation.

“President Trump has placed himself on the wrong side: with the autocrats, the corrupt, and the anti-Americans, who look to Vladimir Putin as a natural ally,” said Daniel Fried, a former career diplomat who oversaw sanctions on Russia after its Ukraine intervention. “Such language will dismay America’s friends and embolden our adversaries.”

The notion of readmitting Russia to the world’s most exclusive club reflected the unusually friendly approach that Mr. Trump has taken to Russia since becoming president, a policy at odds with both Republicans and Democrats in Washington as well as leaders in Europe.

American intelligence agencies have concluded that Mr. Putin personally authorized an operation to intervene in the 2016 American presidential election with the goal of helping Mr. Trump win. Mr. Trump has heatedly denied any collusion with Russia, although his son, son-in-law and campaign chairman met with Russians on the promise of receiving incriminating information about his opponent from the Russian government.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, speaking with Russian journalists accompanying Mr. Putin on a trip to China, expressed indifference to the idea of Russia being readmitted to the Group of 7. “We are putting emphasis on different formats,” Mr. Peskov said.

Mr. Putin was visiting Beijing ahead of a weekend meeting in the Chinese port city of Qingdao of leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group that includes China, Russia and Central Asian states that was set up by Beijing in 2001 as an alternative to American-dominated groups like the Group of 8.

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