This time, there was less public rancor. (That could still change; the summit officially concludes Monday.) Over the weekend, Trump told reporters that his delegation had been “treated beautifully.” Speaking to CNN, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow expressed satisfaction with how the meetings unfolded and cheered the “positive vibes” of the proceedings. Still, it’s hard to ignore the myriad sources of disagreement.
In the third year of the Trump presidency, key U.S. allies are no longer shocked by his aversion to multilateralism, embrace of zero-sum strategic thinking, delight with protectionist measures, indifference to liberal democratic norms and curious empathy for autocrats. All of that was on show in Biarritz — and, according to numerous reports, divisions between Trump and his counterparts in the developed world’s major economies flared in private. Here’s a roundup of Trump’s third outing at the G-7.
Trump, the isolated
On major international issues, Trump found himself alone at the table. The summit’s host, French President Emmanuel Macron, kicked off the event by attacking Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and his perceived disregard for the Amazon rainforest, where a surge in fires has returned focus to both Bolsonaro and Trump’s hostility to the cause of climate action. Trump officials grumbled to reporters about Macron’s focus on these “niche issues,” but he reflects a broader European consensus that is wildly at odds with Trump.
Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and even British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed disapproval of Trump’s use of tariffs in pursuit of a potentially ruinous trade war with China.
Similarly, Trump was in the minority at a testy Saturday night dinner when he suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin be invited back into the bloc, which was formerly the G-8. (The Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 led to Russia’s exclusion.) “On that point … it became a bit tense to say the least,” a European diplomat told the Guardian. “Most of the other leaders insisted on this being a family, a club, a community of liberal democracies, and for that reason they said you cannot allow President Putin — who does not represent that — back in.”
Trump, the coddled
Macron decided in advance that this summit would forsake a joint communique, a decision that rankled some U.S. officials but was aimed at papering over differences. “No one reads the communiques, let’s be honest,” Macron said in advance of the summit. “And in recent times, you read the communiques only to detect disagreements.”
But it was seen as largely a favor to Trump.
“Not to have a communique was to avoid isolating the US and dividing the G7 on issues like trade and climate change,” tweeted Gérard Araud, former French ambassador to the United States. “France didn’t want to renew the awkward situation of the Canadian G7 where Trump suddenly refused the text agreed by his delegation.”
Trump, the second-guesser
After Trump said in front of reporters that he had “second thoughts” about hitting China with tariffs, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham engaged in a dizzying game of spin, arguing that Trump only “regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”
It was part of a larger, confusing set of optics. Trump also appeared to back down from an apparent order to stop U.S. companies from doing business with China.
“Deeply misguided policy and strategy has been joined for some time by dubious negotiating tactics, with promises not kept and threats not carried out on a regular basis,” former treasury secretary Lawrence Summers told my colleagues. “We are at a new stage now with very erratic presidential behavior and frequent denials of obvious reality. I know of no U.S. historical precedent.”
Trump, the opportunist
In a bilateral meeting with Abe, Trump announced that the United States and Japan had reached “in principle” a free-trade pact. Abe, however, was more reticent, insisting that there was still work to be done. His government and the European Union have been locked in a tacit struggle with the Trump administration over planned tariffs on Japanese and European automobiles. It seemed that the White House had dangled the threat of those tariffs in a possibly successful bid to lower Japanese tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods — a move that gives “Trump a prime reason to believe that his gun-to-the-head tactics work,” noted Politico.
Trump and Abe also awkwardly sparred over the former’s apparent tolerance of North Korea’s missile tests.
Iran's active diplomacy in pursuit of constructive engagement continues.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) August 25, 2019
Met @EmmanuelMacron on sidelines of #G7Biarritz after extensive talks with @JY_LeDrian & Finance Min. followed by a joint briefing for UK/Germany.
Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying. pic.twitter.com/oXdACvt20T
Trump, the surprised
The most eye-catching development on Sunday was the sudden arrival of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, an official reviled by the Trump administration and targeted by specific sanctions. Macron and the Europeans, though, see Zarif as a key interlocutor in a diplomatic track that may reduce tensions in the Persian Gulf and are searching for ways to help offset the burden of U.S. sanctions on the Iranian economy.
“The foreign minister’s presence in Biarritz — at the invitation of the French president during a summit of world leaders who know Zarif well — was a reminder of how isolated the Trump administration has become in its approach to Iran,” my colleagues wrote.
Trump, the shepherd
There was one leader who desperately needed to curry Trump’s favor. Britain’s Johnson, whose main priority is taking his country out of the European Union, has counted on Trump’s support of his nationalist agenda amid wider European disapproval. After talks with his European counterparts, Johnson appeared to suggest that the prospect of a “no-deal” Brexit — and all its attendant shocks — is more likely to happen than he has previously admitted.
Yet Johnson did not share the same optimism as Trump about a potentially sweeping U.S.-U.K. trade deal, suggesting that the window for such a pact was “tight.” Johnson also voiced his disapproval of Trump’s trade war, though in conspicuously meek fashion.
“To register the faint, sheeplike note of our view on the trade war, we’re in favor of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down if we can,” Johnson said.
Trump, the bored
“As the summit continued Sunday, Trump’s interest appeared to wane,” my colleagues noted. “During an afternoon break, he posted items on Twitter that had little to do with the G-7. He wished a happy birthday, for example, to celebrities Regis Philbin and Sean Connery.”
He also retweeted far-right conspiracy theories about some of his Democratic opponents and, as he is wont to do, bashed the American media as the “enemy of the people.” He even tweeted that fellow world leaders were asking him, “Why does the American media hate your Country so much?”
Many pundits say Trump was baldly lying — in 2017, at the G-20 in Hamburg, he stirred similar incredulity when he suggested that the heads of state of all these major economies were “talking” about the role of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman, in the Russian email hacking scandal. It was yet another instance of the president using his foreign perch to wage his battles at home.
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