G7 Summit

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump trades easy banter with allies but differences persist

President Donald Trump charged into the Group of Seven summit at odds with allies over U.S. trade penalties and then tried to ease tensions with friendly banter.

June 09, 2018 - 8:52 am
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LA MALBAIE, Quebec (AP) — President Donald Trump charged into the Group of Seven summit at odds with allies over U.S. trade penalties and then tried to ease tensions with friendly banter. He has made vague claims of progress in talks about the new tariffs, but details are scant and clear differences remain.

Other countries "have been taking advantage of the United States on trade," Trump said, laying out his fundamental grievance as he joined leaders of major industrialized nations assembled at a Canadian resort for the annual meeting.

He stirred things up even more by suggesting the G-7 welcome back Russia, ousted from the group after it annexed Crimea.

Trump on Saturday planned to attend a morning event focused on gender equality before departing for Singapore and his summit Tuesday with North Korea's Kim Jong Un. The president intended to skip G-7 sessions on climate change, clean energy and ocean protection.

Trump's recent moves, building on 18 months of nationalist policymaking, have left him out of step with the G-7 and prompted speculation that the group could fracture into something more like the "G-6 plus one."

But in meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump stressed his friendships with the allies while insisting he wanted to see changes on trade.

Trump bantered easily with Trudeau, joking that Trudeau had "agreed to cut all tariffs and all trade barriers." And he emphasized a "good relationship" with Macron, saying they sometimes have a "little test" on trade, but predicting a positive outcome.

Still, the disputes hardly faded away.

Trump railed against trade deficits and said he may pursue separate trade deals with Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. Canada would prefer to renegotiate the three-way deal

Asked if Trudeau was upset that Trump would be leaving the summit early, Trump joked, "He's happy."

Macron said he and Trump held "open and direct" discussions, adding that he thought there was a way to get a "win-win" outcome on trade.

Both sides suggested some progress in NAFTA talks. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said they were "close to a deal," but added that there was also discussion of shifting to a bilateral deal. A Canadian official said the leaders discussed accelerating the pace of the talks.

Other members of the G-7 are Italy, Japan, Germany and Britain. The European Union also attends.

Trump's relations with the others have hit such a low point that it was uncertain whether the seven countries can agree on a joint statement of priorities at the conclusion of the meeting. Macron said Thursday on Twitter, "The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be."

Trump said he thinks the group will produce a joint statement.

Before arriving at the Quebec summit, Trump injected fresh drama by asking why Russia wasn't included in the group.

"They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table," he said.

Russia was ousted from the elite group in 2014 as punishment for President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. In the U.S., special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia in a bid to sway the 2016 presidential election in his favor.

The comments drew a mixed response.

Canada's foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said the issue "hasn't been raised around the G-7 table," though she said there have been "some direct conversations in bilateral meetings." She added "there are no grounds whatsoever for bringing Russia with its current behavior back into the G-7."

Macron's office said such a move wouldn't make sense and pointed out that the latest country to impose economic sanctions on Russia was the U.S. Italy's new premier, Giuseppe Conte, tweeted that he agreed with Trump, saying: "Russia should go back into the G-8. In the interest of all."

Russia seemed unconcerned. State news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying, "We are putting the emphasis on other formats."

Over the course of his presidency, Trump has inflamed allies with his isolationist policies, including withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and the international Iran-nuclear agreement.

"The rules-based international order is being challenged, not by the usual suspects but by its main architect and guarantor: the United States," said Donald Tusk, president of the European Council.

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