Donald Trump attempted to play down transatlantic tensions at the G7 summit after a rocky start that laid bare rifts over foreign policy, trade and the environment.
The US president on Sunday denounced fears that the gathering in the coastal resort in Biarritz would be a “disaster,” even as divisions emerged over the grouping’s Russia policy and wider agenda.
“Before I arrived in France, the Fake and Disgusting News was saying that relations with the 6 others countries in the G-7 are very tense, and that the two days of meetings will be a disaster,” Mr Trump tweeted. “Well, we are having very good meetings, the Leaders are getting along very well, and our Country, economically, is doing great — the talk of the world!”
Mr Trump held a breakfast meeting with Boris Johnson that was being closely watched for signs of how the UK’s new prime minister will position his country between the US and Europe if it leaves the EU as scheduled next month. On Saturday, Mr Johnson had insisted that the US would have to “compromise” in negotiations on any UK-US trade deal and asserted that certain sectors, such as the National Health Service, would be off-limits.
After discussions with Mr Trump, Mr Johnson said: “We’re going to do a fantastic deal”, before pausing, looking at the president and adding: “Once we clear up some of the obstacles in our path.”
He said the two had agreed that the NHS was off the table. “There’s complete unanimity on that,” Mr Johnson said.
Despite the cordial comments between the two leaders, diplomats from both Europe and the US painted a darker picture of a gathering that includes Japan, Canada, Germany, France and Italy, as well as Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of EU leaders.
I congratulate the president on everything the American economy is achieving, it’s fantastic to see that. But just to register a faint, a sheeplike note of our view on the trade war — we are in favour of trade peace on the whole
One senior European official who was briefed on a dinner between the leaders on Saturday said the event featured “lots of barbs” and was “not a pleasant evening for leaders”.
Mr Trump said the G7 had a “lively discussion” on Russia and President Vladimir Putin, adding that it was “certainly possible” he would invite Mr Putin to the group’s summit when the US hosts it next year.
The disagreements included Mr Trump’s call for Russia to be restored to the grouping, which operated as the G8 until Moscow was ejected over its 2014 invasion of Crimea. Mr Tusk had said earlier on Saturday that “under no condition” would he agree to Russia’s readmission. He added that he would instead push for the G7 to invite Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s new president, as a guest.
Many G7 diplomats are desperate to avoid a repeat of last year’s summit in Canada, when Mr Trump attacked Justin Trudeau, the host country’s prime minister, and repudiated the meeting’s communique. In an effort to reduce the potential for conflict this time, Mr Macron has dropped plans for a communique altogether.
But tensions remain with some US administration officials accusing their French hosts of undermining the G7 by attempting to limit discussion on the world economy and foreign policy.
“There is a concern that by focusing on noncore issues France is intentionally trying to fracture the G7 in a public way — and in doing so it strikes a bad precedent for future G7 summits,” said one US senior administration official.
French officials did not deny that the US had pressed for the global economy to be given greater prominence in the talks. But Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, emphasised foreign policy crises and the economy and international trade in a speech to the French people about the G7 on Saturday.
European officials say the negative briefing from Washington also reflects divisions within the Trump administration over the US’s international approach. Mr Trump lunched with President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday and said both the French leader and his country had done a “really great job” on the “very important” summit.
Mr Trump praised Mr Johnson as a “fantastic prime minister” and the “right man” to deliver Brexit ahead of their breakfast meeting.
Mr Johnson is in a tense-stand off with the EU’s other 27 countries, which have refused his demands to reopen a withdrawal agreement hammered out with Theresa May, his predecessor. Asked if he had advice on Brexit, the US president said “he needs no advice he is the right man for the job.”
Mr Johnson responded that Mr Trump was “on message there”.
Mr Trump also said that he had not been asked to give up his trade war with China by other G7 leaders. The president said on Friday that he was increasing tariffs on almost all Chinese imports after Beijing had earlier announced it would apply additional tariffs on $75bn of US goods.
Mr Johnson struck a quietly discordant tone. “I congratulate the president on everything the American economy is achieving, it’s fantastic to see that. But just to register a faint, a sheeplike note of our view on the trade war — we are in favour of trade peace on the whole,” he said.
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