The Cable

Trump Goes to Sicily: Day One of the G-7

On trade, climate change, and Russia, world leaders disagree.


After offending (and shoving) NATO allies in Brussels, and amid reports that one of his top advisers blocked a summit proposal on migration, President Donald Trump got down to business for his first meeting of the Group of Seven nations, in scenic Taormina, Italy.

Trump began his day meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the first world leader to come and curry favor with the former reality television host after his election. The two talked about terrorism and North Korea.

“It’s a big problem, it’s a world problem,” Trump said, according to the White House pool report. “It will be solved at some point. It will be solved.”

But Abe was not to be boxed into one topic of conversation. “Of course as you mentioned, we are going to talk about the North Korean issue, but also we are going to cover” other issues, Abe said, according to the report.

Like other U.S. allies, Japan has wondered just what Trump’s “America First” doctrine would mean for its security guarantees, especially since Trump spent the campaign beating up Japan for taking advantage of America on trade. But so far, Abe seems to have been reassured that — in Asia at least — Washington isn’t quite ready to abdicate its leadership role.

Abe sought to use a little reverse psychology on the president and tease out a broader commitment: “I would like to congratulate you on your successful visit to the Middle East region as well as your participation in the NATO summit, and through your visit to the NATO summit, and through your visit I understand that you have demonstrated robust commitment to ensuring global security and I highly value your commitment,” he said.

But there’s plenty more than security to divide Trump from the other leaders at the Sicilian meeting: Trade and climate change are two issues in particular where the United States has moved away from its traditional partners.

After Trump trashed Germany in a meeting with European Union leaders on Thursday (“The Germans are bad, really bad. Look at the millions of cars they sell in the U.S. We’ll put a stop to that.”), White House economic advisor Gary Cohn explained that the president doesn’t consider one of America’s oldest and closest allies “bad,” simply their trade policy, which, based as it is on world-class manufacturing exports, is actually not far from what Trump’s ideal trade policy pretends to be.

Cohn also said that on climate change, and specifically the fate of the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement, “I think he’s leaning to understand the European position,” a phrase that could mean any number of things. Trump is the only world leader at the G-7 who has called climate change “a hoax.” 

Russia, meanwhile, isn’t allowed anymore at what used to be the G-8. But it made an appearance anyway, indirectly. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote in Politico Europe that “If the West is serious about peace and world order, it should bear in mind that restoring normal relations with Moscow still runs through Kiev.”

It’s not entirely clear there is any common front at the G-7 regarding Russia, though. “I’m not 100 percent sure we can say that we have a common position, a common opinion on Russia,” European Council President Donald Tusk said on Thursday, adding, “although when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine we were on the same line.”

New Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has a preference for dialogue with Moscow instead of sanctions. Abe has been making overtures to Russia, seeking both energy supplies and long-term investment deals (and an end to World War II). And Cohn revealed that the White House doesn’t even know if it should keep in place the economic sanctions levied on Russia in the wake of its illegal 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea — although, on Friday, he clarified his statement, in his way, telling reporters, “We’re not lowering our sanctions in Russia … If anything we would probably look to get tougher on Russia.”

Poroshenko, like so many around the world, might be left at the end of the G-7 without the statement he’d like to hear.

Photo credit: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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