TAORMINA, Italy — President Trump’s views on climate policy are “evolving” after European allies personally pressured him to reverse his vow to abandon an international agreement to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, a senior White House adviser said at the Group of Seven summit here Friday.
Trump is considering remaining in the 2015 Paris environmental accord, a decision that would be a striking turnabout for a president who during his campaign pledged to scrap the agreement and has routinely labeled climate change a “hoax.”
“His views are evolving,” said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who accompanied Trump at the G-7 summit. “He came here to learn. He came here to get smarter.”
Cohn said Trump feels “much more knowledgeable” on the topic and “learned how important it is for the United States to show leadership.” For instance, Cohn said, the European leaders impressed upon Trump that a global agreement, even if more than 100 nations sign on, has little power if it is not endorsed by the United States.
“The president, he digested that,” Cohn said. “That was a meaningful moment for him.”
The statement from Cohn, who has been privately counseling Trump to stay in the Paris accord, followed days of lobbying by foreign leaders during Trump’s first trip abroad urging him not to abandon it.
The president of France tried to persuade him, as did the prime minister of Belgium and the heads of the European Union. Then there was Pope Francis, who presented Trump with a copy of his encyclical on preserving the environment and the “care of our common home.”
Trump has been waiting to make a final decision about whether to withdraw from the accord until after he returns to Washington this weekend. Cohn said he will decide based on “what’s best for the United States,” and is also weighing domestic manufacturing and other economic concerns.
So far at this two-day gathering of the G-7 — a grouping of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — Trump and his counterparts have discussed a broad range of issues, including terrorism and trade, as well as foreign policy hot spots such as Libya, Syria and North Korea.
The leaders agreed to a joint statement on combating global terrorism, Cohn said.
Trump has made virtually no public remarks about the G-7 other than a tweet Friday: “Getting ready to engage G-7 leaders on many issues including economic growth, terrorism, and security.”
Although most of his counterparts held news conferences here Friday, Trump did not, and he has yet to hold one during his marathon foreign trip — a break with tradition for presidential travel overseas.
Some of Trump’s counterparts are prioritizing climate here, well aware that pulling the United States out of the Paris agreement has been the subject of considerable debate within Trump’s administration, dividing the nationalists and globalists who battle to have the president’s ear. Cohn, for instance, has been among those urging Trump to stay in the agreement.
Cohn said that Trump did not want his G-7 partners to think he did not care about the environment, so the president told them, “The environment is very, very important to me, Donald Trump.”
Trump also told his counterparts that he has won environmental awards in the past, Cohn said. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker has found no evidence of any such awards — aside from one issued by a golf association for his New Jersey golf course — and environmentalists have strongly criticized many of his real estate projects over the years.
It is unclear what Trump might decide about the Paris agreement, and White House officials have signaled that he might strike a compromise that involves lowering the U.S. emissions targets that some industries see as constraining growth while staying in the accord.
Under the agreement, which was reached by nearly 200 countries, the Obama administration pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, though that is not legally binding. Only two nations — Syria and Nicaragua — are not parties to the accord.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked to reporters earlier this week about “the difficulty of balancing addressing climate change, responses to climate change, and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy and you can still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy. And that’s a difficult balancing act.”
The G-7 leaders — German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the dean in length of tenure — convened at an ancient Greek theater overlooking the sparkling waters of the Ionian Sea as Italian fighter jets soared through the clear sky, leaving a trail of red, white and green smoke to kick off the summit.
The group, which includes the seven national leaders plus European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, adjourned to the San Domenico Palace, a historic monastery-turned-luxury-hotel, for private sessions.
Cohn described the G-7 session as “a family dinner,” with leaders free to “cut in when you want.” During discussions on climate and trade, two issues on which Trump’s views diverge somewhat from those of U.S. allies, Trump chose to allow most of the other leaders to speak first before sharing his views, Cohn said.
“He listened very acutely to the other leaders in the room,” Cohn said. He said it was undecided whether the nine leaders would sign off on a joint communique stating a consensus on climate policy, or what it might say.
British Prime Minister Theresa May told reporters that there was agreement among the leaders that the climate was a priority. “The United States is considering its position in relation to these matters and what its policy is going to be, but there was no doubt around the table about how important this issue on climate change is,” May said. “We were all very clear about that and about the role of the Paris agreement.”
Tensions were running high after Trump chastised NATO partners Thursday for allegedly not carrying their weight in defense spending. Trump also criticized Germany in a meeting Thursday with Tusk and Juncker, according to Cohn: “He said they’re very bad on trade, but he doesn’t have a problem with Germany. He said his dad is from Germany.”
Tusk said at a news conference: “There is no doubt that this will be the most challenging G-7 summit in years. It is no secret that the leaders meeting sometimes have different positions on topics such as climate change and trade.”
Before the formal sessions began, Trump met Friday morning with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the growing threat posed by North Korea, which has alarmed neighbors with its recent missile tests.
“It’s a big problem,” Trump said. “It’s a world problem, and it will be solved at some point. It will be solved, you can bet on that.”
Abe warmly praised Trump, saying his visit to the Middle East and address Thursday at NATO headquarters were “successful.”
“There is one unfortunate thing I have to confess,” Abe said. “This time around we will not be able to play golf together.” In February, Trump hosted Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where they hit the links, as well as at the White House.
On the sidelines of the Taormina summit, Trump also met individually with May and Merkel. Canadian officials have told reporters that Trump will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday.
The summit has transformed the sun-splashed tourist island of Sicily into a fortress state, with restaurants, pubs and shops battening down the hatches. Wooden planks and metal sheets now fortify most of their fronts, parasols are disappearing from the beach and police units constantly patrol the streets as the ancient Greek colony braces for possible protests by thousands of people.
“It feels like we’re bracing for a hurricane,” said Maurizio Donato, 39, owner of Schizzo, a seaside ice cream parlor.
Luigi Sturniolo, 56, a librarian and veteran social activist from the Sicilian city of Messina, is organizing the main protest rally. Last Sunday, along with 15 other activists, he came to nearby Giardini Naxos to distribute leaflets that read, in part: “the meeting of the so called ‘great seven’ is the political expression of a scary global inequality . . . because [they’re preparing for] a war on migrants.”
“We’ll be there to oppose Trump’s racism, xenophobia and sexism during his debut on the global stage,” the leaflet also read.
Stefano Pitrelli in Giardini Naxos contributed to this report.