Donald Trump called for Russia to be readmitted to the G7 and clashed with his allies on trade as leaders opened a summit that promises to highlight deep rifts between the US and its partners. Leaving the White House on Friday for a curtailed visit to the G7 meetings in Canada, Mr Trump called for the group to reverse its 2014 decision to expel Russia, saying Moscow was needed at the negotiating table.
Donald Trump calls on G7 to readmit Russia as he lashes out at allies !
Italy’s Conte backs call to include Moscow as US rift with allies over trade widens ~
His provocative suggestion, which was quickly endorsed by Italy’s new populist prime minister, compounded tensions with countries already seething over the US’s decision to slap tariffs on their steel and aluminium exports. Speaking at the summit venue in La Malbaie, Québec, Donald Tusk, the European Council president, did nothing to disguise the extent of the rift between the US and its key partners, as he warned that the “rules-based international order” was being challenged by the Americans, its traditional guarantor. “We will not stop trying to convince President Trump that undermining this order makes no sense at all,” he said. “It will only play into the hands of those who seek a new post-west order, where liberal democracy and fundamental freedoms will cease to exist.” Mr Tusk added icily that the G7 should be left as it is because seven is a “lucky number”, noting that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, had suggested that the idea of rejoining was unattractive. © Reuters A UK government official said the group should remind itself “why the G8 became the G7”, recalling the Russian move to illegally annex Crimea. “Before any conversations can take place about Russia rejoining, it needs to change its approach.” On Capitol Hill in Washington, lawmakers of both parties condemned Mr Trump’s remarks. “This is weak. Putin is not our friend and he’s not the president’s buddy,” said Ben Sasse, a Republican senator from Nebraska. “He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America, and our leaders should act like it.” Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, accused Mr Trump of “turning US foreign policy into an international joke”. Russia was ejected from the G8 grouping under Mr Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama in 2014 following the country’s annexation of Crimea. Mr Putin’s reputation in G7 capitals has since only sunk further following allegations of election interference and incidents including the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in the UK city of Salisbury this year. But Mr Trump said on Friday: “Whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, we have a world to run and in 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.” © EPA The US president’s comments were a further sign of his willingness to upend established international norms, and coupled with the worsening divisions over trade, they prompted warnings that the G7 group is facing a major crisis of direction. Robert Hormats, a former top US official, said the grouping appeared to be getting “unglued and unhinged.” He warned: “If they can’t do something in the next 24 hours to turn it around it will severely weaken western collaboration on economic and political and security issues, and it will also weaken American leadership.” Mr Trump coupled his comments about Russia with repeated attacks on G7 partners including Canada and the EU over their trade practices, complaining of “massive” tariffs being imposed on US products. His statements were a response to harsh criticisms of the new US tariffs on steel and aluminium from French president Emmanuel Macron and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who is hosting the G7 summit. © AFP One EU official said that in contrast to past meetings there was no attempt to hide the differences between the sides given the battles that had already played out on Twitter. A goal behind the scenes was to prevent the acrimony over trade in particular from getting further out of hand. During the day the G7 leaders had their first joint opportunity to discuss Mr Trump’s tariffs directly with him. Mr Trump reiterated his long-held concerns over the US trade deficit and what he views as unfair treatment of the country. Other leaders countered with their own statistics and analysis, including on the scale of the EU-US trading relationship and the jobs at stake, according to officials who followed the talks. The debate was said to be measured in tone — and a far cry from the recent sharp exchanges on Twitter — but it yielded no changes of policy. It remained unclear on Friday whether there would be sufficient unity between the various parties to allow the customary joint communique to be issued following the end of the summit. Asked whether leaders would be able to unite behind a communique, Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister, said the sherpas — the officials who help steer the dialogue — could have a late night ahead. Canada’s own sherpa had only three and a quarter hours sleep the previous night she added. Ms Freeland insisted the dialogue so far had been cordial, but she again slammed the US decision to hit her country with tariffs, saying the move was “absolutely unjustified” and that Canada will retaliate. Underscoring the ill feeling heading into the meetings in Québec, Mr Macron used Twitter on Thursday to warn the president that the US’s G7 allies were willing to isolate Mr Trump because of their disagreements. The White House later announced that Mr Trump would leave the G7 summit early and fly straight to Singapore ahead of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. UK Prime Minister Theresa May with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of the G7 summit © Reuters Mr Trump’s comments on Russia threatened to damage efforts by UK prime minister Theresa May to pull together a “unified” response by the G7 — and the wider international community — against Russia in the wake of the poisoning of former agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter on March 4. Following that nerve agent attack, Britain persuaded more than 20 western allies to expel more than 100 Russian diplomats, in a remarkable show of solidarity. But that joint approach has already been undermined this week after Giuseppe Conte, the new prime minister of Italy, said he believed that sanctions against Moscow — introduced after the annexation of Crimea — should be eased. Responding to Mr Trump’s suggestion on Russia, Mr Conte tweeted: “I agree with President @realDonaldTrump: Russia should re-enter the G8. It’s in everyone’s interests”.