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Trump opens G7 with a slap at other leaders – calling them ‘friends of mine, for the most part’

Donald Trump threw shade at some of America’s closest partners on Friday evening, mere hours before he’d see them in Biarritz at the Group of Seven summit.

He threatened to tax French ‘like they’ve never seen before’ and characterized world leaders attending the event as ‘friends for the most part’ in front of Marine One.

‘We’re going to France. We’ll have a good few days. I think it will be very productive, seeing a lot of leaders who are friends of mine, for the most part,’ he said of his trip, smirking as he added, ‘Wouldn’t say in 100 percent of the cases, but for the most part.’

He did not say which leaders were getting under his skin, but Trump offered several hints in the comments that came as he left the White House with first lady Melania.

Trump harped on France’s digital tax, which he said U.S. tech companies don’t deserve. He noted that he’s ‘not the biggest fan of the tech companies,’ which he again accused them of interfering in his election. 

Yet, he said, their regulation should be up to the United States, and not foreign countries like France.

‘I don’t like what France did. They put a digital tax on our tech companies,’ he said. ‘Those are great American companies, and frankly, I don’t want France going out and taxing our companies, very unfair.’

He cautioned French President Emmanuel Macron against moving ahead with the action that could spark a protracted trade war with the United States. 

‘If they do that, we’ll be taxing their wine, or doing something else. We’ll be taxing their wine, like they’ve never seen before,’ he promised.  

Whether he meant for the earlier jab about his ‘friends’ in the global community to land on Macron or another leader he’ll be seeing like German Chancellor Angela Merkel was unclear.

After his wine tax threat he’d added, ‘Other than that, I have a very good relationship with, Macron, as you say, and we’re going to have a very good couple of days. I look forward to being in France.’

‘I’m going to see Prime Minister Abe, he’s a great gentleman, a great friend of mine,’ he told another reporter asking about his relationship with Japan’s head of government.

Trump has a kinship with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but it will also be put to test this weekend when leaders of the world’s most affluent countries convene in France.   

Trump is coming in hot on the economy and trade and plans to lobby fellow leaders to readmit Russia to the exclusive group.  

Macron is pushing a climate change agenda that Trump has vociferously opposed and rejected a U.S.-circulated claim this week that he wants to return to include Vladimir Putin in future summits.

Trump’s only natural ally among G7 nations – a group comprised of Germany, France, Italy, Canada, the US, the UK and Japan – Johnson will be caught in the crossfire. 

Johnson is Trump’s only natural ally among G7 nations – a group comprised of Germany, France, Italy, Canada, the US, the UK and Japan. The UK prime minister is pictured Friday in England

Emmanuel Macron and Trump are fighting over the agenda and Russia's inclusion in future summits

Angela Merkel and Trump will go to battle over NATO and natural gas

Trump is coming in hot on the economy and trade and plans to lobby fellow leaders to readmit Russia to the exclusive group

KEEP OUT:  Biarritz is on high alert ahead of the G7, inconveniencing tourists in the area's high season

KEEP OUT:  Biarritz is on high alert ahead of the G7, inconveniencing tourists in the area’s high season

A view shows the beach and the Hotel du Palais summit venue ahead of the G7 summit

A view shows the beach and the Hotel du Palais summit venue ahead of the G7 summit 

The conservative leaders have been strategizing in weekly calls for the past month. 

‘He and I are very much aligned. We feel very good about each other,’ Trump said last week. 

In his trade stand-off with Beijing, the U.S. leader may find no better backer than the newly-ascendant Johnson, who is still considering whether to join Trump’s crusade against Chinese telecom firm Huawei. 

A self-defined nationalist who has broken with fellow leaders on climate change, Russian aggression and the Iranian nuclear pact, Trump’s rejection of globalism and his distaste for multinational organizations is likely to leave him feeling unexpectedly isolated, even with Johnson at the negotiating table.

The UK has remained steadfast in its partnership with regional allies on core issues, although Johnson’s interest in European priorities like global warming is softer than his immediate predecessors. That support is unlikely to change even after Brexit. 

‘We’re obviously going to continue to see some really serious divergences,’ Leslie Vinjamuri, head of the US and the Americas Programme at Chatham House, told ‘You can’t just wait it out for your friend to run the country and then think that you’re going to move things along. Britain is a democracy. It’s got its own set of interests.’ 

On economic basics, Trump and Johnson have the same general worldview, which will benefit the U.S. president as he fights his own trade battle with the EU.

‘That’s really all we care about,’ White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Thursday of the U.S. mission at the secluded conference.  

Trump will be heralding a pro-jobs, pro-growth agenda centered on free, fair and reciprocal trade, another senior administration official said, outlining a U.S. push to return to the mandate of the group that’s comprised of the world’s most advanced economies.   

‘These are critical agenda items that the President has done domestically. We’ve seen the results. We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of jobs coming back to the U.S. economy. And we’ve seen growth rates that we didn’t think were possible just a few years ago,’ the official said.  ‘And you can contrast this to what’s happening in Europe, where growth is effectively flat.’  

Trump at the summit will be ‘really engaging in honest conversations’ about these issues, said the adviser of the president’s desire to ‘ensure that U.S. workers and businesses have markets in which they can sell their goods and services’ within the world’s most lucrative economies.    

The Wilson Center’s Matthew Rojansky told that European nations will be equally interested to see behind the curtain of Trump’s trade practices.

‘With troubling economic signs on the horizon in U.S. markets and the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute, this is likely to be the major focus of concern from U.S. allies at the summit,’ he said. ‘They will want to know what Washington plans to do to manage these threats to growth and prosperity.’  

Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council in the Obama administration, observed that the resulting fallout is likely to be a ‘good deal of disunity on trade’ in both the transnational context and in terms of Trump’s brawl with China. 

‘The trend that we’ve noticed, and it’s been unmistakable over the past couple years, has been that often the G7 has evolved into disarray rather than ascended to unified themes and objectives,’ he told ahead of the summit. 

When Canada hosted the meeting last year, the U.S. pulled out of a joint communique at the last minute after Trump took offense to comments that Justin Trudeau made at a news conference.  

Macron decided to scrap a 2019 statement of mutual agreement altogether, he said on Wednesday, because it would be ‘pointless’ without U.S. participation. 

‘I think it’s quite likely that he is seeking to avoid a debacle rather than to achieve what the summit used to set out to achieve, and that is a good degree of consensus between and among the world’s most powerful economies and the world’s most powerful countries,’ Price said of the development.

The G7 began as a response to the 1970s oil crisis but it has evolved to include, and has in many ways been overtaken, by foreign policy crises.

This Biarrtiz agenda skews in the direction of liberal initiatives that Macron has championed such income and gender equality and the health and protection of the planet. 

It begins Saturday evening with a greeting and informal dinner for visiting heads of state and their top aides and concludes Monday with unilateral press conferences.

African leaders from five nations, the Australian prime minister, India’s prime minister and the Chilean president have also been invited to join talks in the seaside resort town that’s a haven for celebrities and well-to-do tourists. 

In addition to the private working sessions, Trump will hold one-offs with most of his counterparts, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Macron, Canada’s Trudeau, India’s Narendra Modi, Japan’s Abe and the UK’s Johnson.

Each of those bilateral talks has a separate agenda that’s catered to participating nations.

Merkel can expect another lecture from Trump on LNG and Germany’s reliance on Russia for liquefied natural gas. The U.S. leader will again demand additional military spending from Germany, which continues to fall below the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s recommended contribution level.

Protests in Hong Kong will take center stage in a scheduled bilateral with Trudeau, a U.S. official said.

Canada has more than 300,000 expats living in the autonomous region of China, and it’s government is helping to lead a pressure campaign on Beijing to maintain Hong Kong’s constitutional rights and keep the peace.

Trump will dedicate a meeting with Modi to the conflict Kashimir, which he called ‘explosive’ this week as he offered to mediate peace talks.

‘Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have the Hindus and you have the Muslims, and I wouldn’t say they get along so great. And that’s what you have right now,’ the U.S. president said. 

In his first in-person conversation with Johnson since the conservative replaced Theresa May as prime minister, the White House said that Trump will seek to improve ‘ongoing very close partnership that that the US and UK enjoy’ and work toward a free trade agreement with Britain.

‘We’re very enthusiastic about that prospect,’ a senior U.S. official said in a G7 preview for U.S. press. ‘And we would like to be able to make some progress.’

Trump’s support for a deal or no deal exit from the EU has created an opening for a return to the ‘special relationship’ between the countries that soured when May was in office, Vinjamuri said.

A diplomatic row at the end of her tenure brought about the resignation of the British ambassador after The Daily Mail revealed his unflattering portrayal of Trump in private cables.  Trump lashed out at May in tweets for fumbling Brexit, as he demanded the diplomat’s head.

His anger has calmed with the election of Johnson, whom he’d said he’d prefer to work with. The leaders have spoken on the phone four times in as many weeks about a trade agreement and Brexit. 

‘They’re probably — I don’t want to say our “closest,” because I don’t want to insult other people, but certainly — or countries — but certainly they’re one of our closest allies anywhere in the world,’ the U.S. president told and other reporters last Thursday of the alliance with Britain.

He added, ‘And we’re going to have a fantastic relationship with UK. And we’re going to have a great trade deal with UK. And that’s moving along rapidly.’  

Vinjamuri said the statement may not be a reflection of some developing rift with Johnson but warned, ‘This is as good it’s going to get for this American president, in terms of a leader that he can work with in Europe.’ 

Trump has otherwise forged an a closer-than-anticipated bond with Macron, in spite of their ideological differences. He’s traveled to France on three other occasions in the two years since the 41-year-old populist took office and named him the guest of honor at his first and only White House state dinner.

When Canada hosted the meeting last year, the U.S. pulled out of a joint communique at the last minute after Trump took offense to comments that Justin Trudeau made at a news conference. He's seen here speaking to Merkel and Macron

When Canada hosted the meeting last year, the U.S. pulled out of a joint communique at the last minute after Trump took offense to comments that Justin Trudeau made at a news conference. He’s seen here speaking to Merkel and Macron

Their relationship was under strain this week, however, after the White House claimed that Macron introduced the idea of Russia rejoining the G7, in spite of the ongoing occupation of Crimea, in a phone call with Trump in advance of the summit that France is hosting this year for the sixth time since the group’s launch in 1975.

Macron subsequently told reporters that it would be a ‘strategic error’ and ‘signing off the weakness of the G7’ for Russia to be invited without preconditions.

The White House says that Trump also had to force a discussion on the global economy and his desire for trade agreements that are more favorable to the U.S. after Macron deliberately disincluded a session on the dispute from the Biarritz agenda. 

At Trump’s urging, the president’s advisers say Macron added a Saturday morning conversation to schedule that encompasses the president’s trade grievances. 

‘Right now, outside the U.S. as you know, there’s very little economic growth: Europe is on the edge, Japan, China’s faltering. And we think it’s high time that we had a good group discussion of the allies regarding how to promote economic growth and prosperity and to lower trade barriers and to stabilize currency,’ National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow told reporters on Thursday.

He concluded, ‘So that will formally be on the formal agenda. And that’s really all we care about.’ 

Macron will in turn try to move the needle on environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, according to a press packet.  

‘At the Biarritz Summit, France will build on its past and current efforts to support carbon neutrality by 2050 at the European level, by encouraging more countries to adopt this vital goal,’ an outline of of the G7 agenda says.  

Police officers on motorcycles patrol past a cafe ahead of the G7 summit in Biarritz. The summit starts on Saturday

Police officers on motorcycles patrol past a cafe ahead of the G7 summit in Biarritz. The summit starts on Saturday

A conversation on Russia and it’s future participation is not on the agenda, however the White House said that Trump is likely to bring the issue up in closed-door talks.

‘We expect the issue of Russia’s participation or nonparticipation to be discussed among the leaders,’ a senior official said Thursday.

Tump said this week that it would be ‘appropriate’ for G7 nations to allow Russia to rejoin the informal organization’s ranks and ‘somebody’ should raise the issue.

‘President Obama thought it wasn’t a good thing to have Russia in, and so, he wanted Russia out. But I think it’s much more appropriate to have Russia in, particularly the G8, because a lot of things we talk about have to do with Russia,’ he argued.

Macron and Johnson have openly rebuffed him, and  Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday at a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Russia’s participation is out of the question until it vacates Crimea. 

‘I think all of us would be delighted to welcome a Russia which sought again to be a member in good standing of our like-minded group of countries, a group of countries committed to the rule of law, a group of countries committed to democracy,’ she said. ‘And the way for Russia to show that it wants to do that is to leave Crimea and to end the war in the Donbas. It’s very simple.’ 


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