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Trump Advisor Stephen Miller Blocked G-7 Migration Proposal

The author of the ‘Muslim Ban’ is now working to scuttle plans to settle refugees.

LAMPEDUSA, ITALY - MAY 24:  Refugees and migrants are seen swimming and yelling for assistance from crew members from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) 'Phoenix' vessel after a wooden boat bound for Italy carrying more than 500 people capsized on May 24, 2017 off Lampedusa, Italy. Numbers of refugees and migrants attempting the dangerous central Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy has risen since the same time last year with more than 43,000 people recorded so far in 2017. In an attempt to slow the flow of migrants Italy recently signed a deal with Libya, Chad and Niger outlining a plan to increase border controls and add new reception centers in the African nations, which are key transit points for migrants heading to Italy. MOAS is a Malta based NGO dedicated to providing professional search-and-rescue assistance to refugees and migrants in distress at sea. Since the start of the year MOAS have rescued and assisted 3572 people and are currently patrolling and running rescue operations in international waters off the coast of Libya.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
LAMPEDUSA, ITALY - MAY 24: Refugees and migrants are seen swimming and yelling for assistance from crew members from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) 'Phoenix' vessel after a wooden boat bound for Italy carrying more than 500 people capsized on May 24, 2017 off Lampedusa, Italy. Numbers of refugees and migrants attempting the dangerous central Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy has risen since the same time last year with more than 43,000 people recorded so far in 2017. In an attempt to slow the flow of migrants Italy recently signed a deal with Libya, Chad and Niger outlining a plan to increase border controls and add new reception centers in the African nations, which are key transit points for migrants heading to Italy. MOAS is a Malta based NGO dedicated to providing professional search-and-rescue assistance to refugees and migrants in distress at sea. Since the start of the year MOAS have rescued and assisted 3572 people and are currently patrolling and running rescue operations in international waters off the coast of Libya. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s controversial senior advisor and speechwriter, Stephen Miller, has led White House efforts to undercut an initiative by Italy to place the migration crisis at the center of this week’s Group of Seven major summit meeting starting Friday in Sicily.

For Italy, the summit in Taormina, Sicily, was to provide a poignant opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of hundred of thousands of refugees who cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy’s shores each year, and to reach agreement on a plan to find them permanent homes.

But the Donald Trump White House has largely blocked its Italian host from putting forward an initiative addressing the need to resettle millions of refugees and migrants who have poured into Europe on rickety boats or crossed borders on foot over the past decade. Instead, the United States has pressed the leaders to cap the session with a stern declaration on the need to fight terrorism, a cause that gained added urgency following a grisly suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

The rearguard action was led by the 31-year-old Miller, who has exercised outside influence over the summit’s response to the worst refugee crisis since World War II.  In line with President Trump’s pledge to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the United States, the White House has been pressing the G-7 leaders to focus more attention on the need to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing borders than on finding migrants who make the journey a permanent home.

The U.S. stance reflects the influence of Trump confidantes like Miller in an area that has traditionally been managed by national security experts in the White House and the State Department. But the State Department remains short-staffed, creating a policy vacuum that has been filled by the White House. The migration issue has largely been channeled through the White House’s domestic policy council, which defers to Miller, the administration’s strongest advocate for tough migration policies. Miller has filled a policy void left by a weak multilateral affairs division in the White House, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has shown little interest in refugees, according to a U.S. official.

In advance of the summit, Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni met Wednesday with President Trump in Rome and made a last-ditch effort to persuade the American president to soften his opposition to resettling more refugees in the United States and urged the United States to provide financial assistance for migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean, according to USA Today. It remains unclear how Trump responded.

The move on migration is part of a broader effort by the White House to push back on continental European priorities on a range of issues at the G-7 summit, including climate change, trade, and migration that until recently aligned closely with President Obama’s foreign-policy vision.

Trump administration officials contend that G-7 bureaucrats have developed a vexing habit over the years of adopting lengthy communiques with voluminous annexes that don’t conform with the president’s vision. They also concede that they either haven’t had time to adequately review a range of issues before the G-7 or consider them unacceptable.

“It’s spun out of control,” said a second U.S. official, who noted that the White House favors a simpler event with more hobnobbing among world leaders and fewer policy declarations.

“The president of the United States has campaigned on certain principles and he will not abandon those just because another country wishes we would have a different policy” said the second U.S. official. “We are not forcing our policy on others, but they shouldn’t try to force theirs on us.”

The Trump administration has voiced opposition to numerous proposals put forward by its counterparts, including a call for a sweeping endorsement of the World Trade Organization. Trump characterized the trade group, which was established at the direction of the United States, as a “disaster” during the presidential campaign. The administration has sought to explore ways to bypass the trade group’s resolution disputes mechanism so it can unilaterally slap trade sanctions on countries it suspects are engaging in unfair trade tactics.

The Trump administration also pushed back on a call to endorse the Paris climate accord, with the second U.S. official noting that Trump has yet to decide whether to leave the agreement or not. An “unrealistic” provision in an early draft of the final communique called for sharp cuts in carbon emissions and lessening dependence on fossil fuel, the official said. “That is not what the position of the United States.”

The G-7 meeting is an opportunity for the world’s leading industrialized democracies — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. But expectations have been set low for the summit, with new governments coming to power in the United States, Britain, and France, rising hostility to trade, and immigration.

The seaside meeting comes at a moment of international political upheaval, with the United States rethinking its support for key international agreements. European diplomats have complained privately that planning for the event has been “hampered” by the State Department’s slow transition, according to Reuters.

Trump’s G-7 chief negotiator, Kenneth Juster, meanwhile has been pushed out of his job, according to Politico. It remains unclear whether Juster, who is reportedly under consideration to become Trump’s envoy to India, has fallen out of favor at the White House. But he will not attend the summit.

One Trump insider said that Juster is still being considered for a senior position in the administration.

But another Trump insider said “he was pushed out. I also know that India is not a done deal. But he wants it.”

Some diplomats said that it was not the United States alone that was impeding progress on a range of fronts in negotiations on a summit communique. Britain and France have gone through national elections that have proven distracting for negotiators trying to forge a common vision.

And few nations are particularly keen on agreeing to new financial commitments, or abiding by previous pledges.

For instance, the G-7 powers traditionally release a document outlining progress on previous commitments they have made on education. The point of issuing the report is to hold countries accountable for past promises. This year, no such document is expected before the event.

Marie Rumsby, the senior advisor for food security at Global Citizen, an advocacy group, said that a general stinginess has undercut efforts to promote anti-poverty initiatives.

In 2015, she noted, the Group of Seven made a commitment to lift 500 million people out of poverty by 2030.

In the early preparations for the summit, the Italian host planned to launch a flagship initiative on food security to help meet that goal. But key members were not able to agree on specific financial commitments, and so they dropped the initiative. “We understand that other governments were not forthcoming with financial contributions,” Rumsby said.

But Luca De Fraia, of the nongovernmental organization ActionAid Italia, said the biggest setback has been the U.S. effort to undercut Italy’s effort to make migration the centerpiece of the summit. Italy, which hosts one of Europe’s largest migrant communities, had proposed having G-7 leaders endorse a standalone statement on migration that underscored the international communities obligations to resettle refugees. But the United States objected, offering up their own version, which proved unacceptable to the Italians. Deadlocked, they decided to drop the idea of having a separate migration statement. Instead, the final G-7 communique will include a couple of paragraphs on the issue that both sides can live with it. “We know the negotiations and discussions have been tough and we are not expecting much on that front, unfortunately,” said De Fraia.

Photo Credit: CHRIS McGRATH/Getty Images

Correction, May 25, 2017: Luca De Fraia is the assistant secretary-general of ActionAid Italia. A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled his name and misidentified his affiliation.

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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