President Trump said Saturday that he will postpone until at least September the annual Group of Seven meeting of world leaders, which he had wanted to hold in-person by the end of June at the White House as the administration tries to project a return to normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel had declined Trump’s invitation to come to Washington for the meeting, citing concerns about the pandemic, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans and more than 365,000 worldwide.
Trump also said he plans to invite Russia, South Korea, Australia and India — all already part of the Group of 20, which was conceived as a larger and more inclusive gathering than the G-7, with its clubby reputation.
The president informed reporters of his decision to delay the gathering until the fall aboard Air Force One as he returned from Cape Canaveral, Fla., where he had viewed the successful SpaceX shuttle launch.
“I don’t feel that as a G-7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world,” Trump said. “It’s a very outdated group of countries.”
Russia had been invited to attend the sessions for several years until 2014, when Moscow was disinvited over its invasion of Crimea. Trump has repeatedly said he wanted to include Russia again, which Merkel and others vigorously opposed.
Since the other six members of the G-7 are opposed to Russia’s rejoining, it is not clear whether they would attend a meeting where Trump forced the issue. Trump said he has “roughly” broached the idea with leaders of Russia, South Korea, Australia and India.
Trump said this year’s G-7 could be held the weekend before or after the United Nations General Assembly, which is currently scheduled to begin Sept. 15. But he also indicated that the annual meeting could be held after the November election.
All the G-7 nations plus those Trump mused about adding would be represented at the U.N. gathering in September. The United States holds the rotating host position for the G-7 this year.
The G-20 is already scheduled to hold its annual meeting in November in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. That makes it unlikely that many leaders would commit to several group summits back to back this fall, which also features the U.S. presidential election.
Trump spoke with another G-7 leader, Emmanuel Macron of France, on Saturday, and the two presidents “discussed progress on convening the G7,” according to a statement from the White House.
Macron’s office later put out a statement saying that it is important for all G-7 leaders to attend the meeting while raising the possibility he might not go if Merkel was not there.
“For a face-to-face G7, everyone must be present,” the statement read, adding that “the presence of the Chancellor and the unity of Europeans is important.”
The Trump administration had announced in March that the annual gathering of large industrial economies would take place virtually, but switched it back to an in-person meeting earlier this month.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had indicated he would attend, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to do so. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had not committed, citing health concerns.
“There are significant health preoccupations that we have around holding an in-person meeting,” Trudeau said Wednesday, during a news conference. “Would we then as leaders have to self-isolate when we return, which is right now the rule in Canada?”
Abe might also have had to self-isolate upon his return to Japan.
Italy’s participation was unclear.
Souad Mekhennet and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.