Tensions Simmer at G-7 Summit
Plus: Trump’s mixed messages on U.S.-China trade, the Brexit blame game, and other stories we’re following today.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: G-7 leaders convene in France as disagreements fester, Iran’s foreign minister makes a surprise appearance, and NASA launches what could be its first space crime investigation.
Audrey Wilson, Foreign Policy’s newsletter editor, is away this week. I’ll be standing in. We welcome your feedback at email@example.com.
G-7 Under Strain
Amid fears over global recessionary trends, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States gathered over the weekend in the French city of Biarritz for the annual G-7 meeting, which wraps up on Monday.
As Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh wrote last week, the summit was to a degree doomed to fail. U.S. President Donald Trump ended last year’s meeting in Montreal on a sour note, with a parting shot from Air Force One, tweeting that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “very dishonest and weak.” This time around, French President Emmanuel Macron went so far as to announce in advance that those assembled would not even attempt put out a final communiqué.
What are the sources of tension? Although it was not a formal subject of the meeting, Trump’s counterparts found ways to express worry over the United States’ escalating trade dispute with China. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson registered what he called a “faint, sleeplike” objection to the trade war. “We’re in favor of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down if we can,” he said. Behind the scenes, the Washington Post reported, the leaders also found themselves at odds with Trump over climate change, North Korea, Russia, and Iran.
What was Zarif doing in Biarritz? Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, made a surprise appearance at the summit to meet with Macron and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, along with British and German diplomats. The invitation was seen as a power move by Macron that was designed to show the White House that EU leaders do not share Washington’s views on Iran. Zarif was a key figure in negotiating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which the United States has withdrawn but to which Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China remain committed. Asked about Zarif’s visit, Trump said: “No comment.” The invitation riled at least one figure in Trump’s orbit; the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, denounced the French move as “manipulative” and “disrespectful.”
Do the G-7 leaders agree on anything? Macron said Sunday that they were close to a deal on providing assistance to help quell fires in the Brazilian Amazon. In the face of international pressure, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whom other world leaders have accused of abdicating custodianship of the rainforest, deployed the army to help fight the manmade fires, which have destroyed broad swaths of jungle.
What We’re Following Today
Trump sows confusion over trade with China. Over the past few days, Trump has sent mixed signals on the direction of the U.S. trade war with China. On Friday, he said he would raise tariffs again, and tweeted what appeared to be an attempt to force U.S. businesses out of China by decree. “Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China,” he wrote. On Saturday, he claimed to have the legal authority to follow through. But on Sunday, Lawrence Kudlow, his top economic advisor, said there would be no formal order. Asian stocks dropped Monday in response to the news.
At the G-7 summit, a reporter asked Trump if he had any second thoughts about the trade war. “Yeah, sure,” he responded. The White House later walked that back. “He regrets not raising the tariffs higher,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
Brexit talks fail to progress. Johnson and European Council President Donald Tusk clashed over Brexit when the two met in Biarritz on Sunday. An EU official told Reuters that the leaders restated previous positions without making progress toward an exit deal. As the Oct. 31 deadline for Britain’s departure for the EU approaches, Johnson and Tusk have each blamed the other in advance for a no-deal outcome, should one occur.
Drones crash in Lebanon. Two drones, which Hezbollah claimed came from Israel, crashed in Beirut, heightening tensions. Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Iran-backed group, speculated that the drone that crashed into a Hezbollah media office in the area was a “suicide plane,” and said that any future Israeli drones that enter Lebanese airspace would be shot down.
Violence returns in Hong Kong. After twelve weeks of demonstrations, the two most recent of which were relatively calm, violent clashes once again broke out: Police fired teargas and protesters fought back with rocks and crude bombs. They also destroyed surveillance installations.
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Keep an Eye On
A coalition takes shape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Seven months after taking office under a cloud of suspicion after widespread allegations of vote rigging, President Félix Tshisekedi has formed his cabinet, in a power-sharing agreement between Tshisekedi’s Direction For Change and former President Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for Congo. “We will begin work soon,” Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga told reporters.
Italy faces a deadline. After the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte last week plunged the country into a political crisis, Italian President Sergio Mattarella—who is responsible for charting the course forward, which could include snap elections—gave vying political factions until Tuesday to try to come up with a workable plan.
The collapse of the coalition between Matteo Salvini’s League Party and the Five Star Movement could lead to a new Five Star alliance with former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s center-left Democratic Party. If there are new elections, Salvini stands a good chance of winning, and could form a far-right coalition with the Brothers of Italy.
South Africa battles swine fever. As African swine fever spreads across the globe, Pretoria is building a new task force to fight the disease, which only affects pigs, not humans. The incurable infection, which has been detected across South Africa, has wreaked havoc among hog herds in China.
Odds and Ends
NASA is looking into the details of a dispute between an astronaut and her estranged spouse over the management of a shared bank account, which she accessed from outer space, in what could be the first investigation into an alleged space crime, the New York Times reports.
Conservationists and ecologists are looking into the mysterious deaths of nearly 40 agile wallabies in Queensland, Australia. The dead animals were found near a housing development that has almost wiped out their habitat. Investigators suspect poisoning.
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