Trump request to readmit Russia casts cloud over G7 summit

Criticism includes accusation US president is making US foreign policy ‘international joke’

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that Russia should be attending this weekend's Group of Seven nations meeting, as he prepared to fly to Canada to attend part of the three-day conference.

 

Deepening tensions between Donald Trump and key allies of the United States overshadowed a two-day meeting of G7 leaders in Canada, as the US president called on Russia to be readmitted to the group.

In incendiary comments delivered as he left Washington for Quebec, Mr Trump said Russia – which was expelled from the then G8 group of industrialised nations over its annexation of Crimea – should be invited to rejoin.

“Russia should be in this meeting. Whether you like it or not and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run. They threw Russia out, they should let Russia back in,” Mr Trump told reporters.

Mr Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, along with the six other G7 countries, agreed to expel Russia from the informal group after it illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The US president’s comments are likely to be seen as continuing evidence of Mr Trump’s conciliatory attitude to Russia at a time when he is increasingly at odds with America’s long-term allies on trade, climate change and foreign policy.

In a sign of increasing frustration from European leaders at Mr Trump’s unilateral approach to trade and diplomacy, French president Emmanuel Macron criticised the US president on Twitter ahead of the meeting.

“The American president may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6-country agreement if need be,” he said, noting that the other G7 countries “represent values, they represent an economic market which has the weight of history behind it and which is now a true international force”.

Macron’s efforts

Despite his receiving a warm welcome from Mr Trump and his wife Melania in April at the White House, Mr Macron’s efforts to persuade the US president to stick with the Iran deal and not to impose steel and aluminium tariffs on Europe ultimately proved fruitless.

A bilateral meeting between the US and French presidents on Friday was delayed after Mr Trump arrived later than scheduled to the G7 venue. Though the two leaders spoke briefly on the fringes of the meeting, discussing trade issues, they were expected to hold a more formal bilateral meeting on Friday evening.

Speaking as he left for Canada, Mr Trump attacked what he termed the EU and Canada’s unfair trade practices. “All of these countries have been taking advantage of us. We have to straighten it out. We have massive trade deficits with almost every country,” Mr Trump said, highlighting what he said was the EU’s $151 billion (€128 billion) trade surplus with the US.

While Mr Trump posed for the traditional group photo with the other G7 leaders and European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at the picturesque lakeside setting, the US appeared increasingly isolated at the meeting, though Mr Trump’s suggestion that Russia should be readmitted to the group was supported by the newly elected Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte. Italy has long been a reluctant supporter of the EU’s tough stance on Russia.

Alienating allies

The president’s comments on Russia elicited a damning response from Democrats. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer accused the president of “turning our foreign policy into an international joke”. Former vice-president Joe Biden also weighed in. “Putin’s Russia invaded its neighbours, violated our sovereignty by undermining elections, and attacks dissidents abroad. Yet our president wants to reward him with a seat at the table while alienating our closest democratic allies. It makes no sense,” he tweeted.

Mr Trump is due to depart the summit four hours before it finishes on Saturday, travelling on to Singapore where he is to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on Tuesday for a historic meeting.

It is unclear whether the G7 leaders will reach consensus on a final communique when the summit closes on Saturday – traditionally the most tangible outcome of international summits.