As Trump heads to G7 summit, potential for dysfunctional 'family reunion'

iStock(BIARRITZ, France) — President Donald Trump flies across the Atlantic Ocean on Friday night to the ritzy coastal city of Biarritz, France, for the G7 summit, an annual gathering that could be likened to a dysfunctional family reunion.

As world leaders from the Group of Seven countries, consisting of Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States descend on the peaceful resort town to discuss the global economy and other pressing issues, they, too, arrive with their own domestic political baggage.

The global is economy is weak, in part due to ongoing trade wars sparked by the United States. Germany is on the brink of a recession. Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte resigned just days ago amid political chaos (he will still attend). The new prime minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, who will make his debut at the G7, has vowed to divorce his country from the European Union by Halloween. And then there are pressing global issues including climate change, Libya, Iran, North Korea, terrorism, migration, and as protests continue in Hong Kong, the fragile state of democracies around the world.

And of course, amid these challenges are the uncertainties of the ever-unpredictable president of the United States.

Over the course of the three-day summit, Trump will attend meetings on foreign security, the global economy – a session added at the last minute by the United States, African economies, gender equality, and the climate. Senior administration officials who gave reporters an outline of the president’s agenda while in Biarritz said he plans to promote job growth, the economic empowerment of women and the growth of emerging African economies.

“You will really hear the president hit home the message of the pro-jobs, pro-growth economic agenda, and what he’s done by way of the historic tax reforms, deregulation, investment policies, a focus on energy and free, fair and reciprocal trade,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of the trip.

But officials also admitted, the president will go his own way, no matter what.

Ahead of the G7, the president signaled he won’t hesitate to shake things up when he abruptly cancelling his trip to Denmark over interest in buying Greenland, and throwing his first grenade at the group by saying he wants Russia to rejoin and once more make it the G8.

“I think it’s much more appropriate to have Russia in,” Trump said Tuesday at the White House. “A lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia, I could certainly see it being the G8 again, if someone would make that motion, I would be disposed to think about it favorably.”

But despite the president’s urging to have closer to ties to Moscow, allies have signaled they have no support for inviting Russia back to the party citing aggression in Europe and lack of progress in Ukraine. Instead, finding ways to support Ukraine’s new president in the face of ongoing Russian interference will be a priority, according to a diplomatic source.

Last year in Canada, Trump’s behavior at the G7 prompted some to call the G7 the “G6+1” or the “G7-1.” The president defied the G7 by taking off without signing the official communique, an agreement reached at the end of each summit. This year, in recognition of just how all over the map the G7 countries are on different issues, the host of this year’s meeting, French President Macron, said there won’t even be a communique. He called it “pointless.”

Macron outlined this year’s priority as “the fight against inequalities,” taking specific aim at five goals: tackling gender inequality, reducing “environmental inequality,” promoting fair trade, fighting terrorism, and tapping into opportunities from digital technology and AI. In addition to the seven countries that make up the G7, Macron has also invited four major democracies, Australia, Chile, India, and South Africa, and he is specifically emphasizing African economies by inviting, for the first time, the African Union, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Senegal and Rwanda.

With so many world leaders in one spot, French interior minister Christope Castaner said they are invoking “maximum vigilance,” with 13,200 police, French and Spanish police forces, 400 firefighters, and 13 emergency teams.

While in Biarritz, the president plans to meet one-on-one with new U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and India’s Prime Minister Narenda Modi.

The president has shown the most excitement about meeting his British counterpart for the first time. Trump and Johnson spoke on the phone ahead of the summit, and National Security Advisor John Bolton traveled to London to offer support for Johnson’s Brexit efforts and discuss the potential of a trade deal between the United States and U.K.

“Great discussion with Prime Minister @BorisJohnson today. We talked about Brexit and how we can move rapidly on a US-UK free trade deal. I look forward to meeting with Boris this weekend, at the @G7, in France!” Trump tweeted.

But even though the president is hoping to find a buddy in Biarritz with Johnson, the new prime minister has shown he leans more European on some of the biggest issues facing the summit like climate change, trade, and his agreement with the EU that the president’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal was a bad idea.

“It feels to me like this is the summit where the leaders expect they have figured out how to deal with this president, they have begun thinking in the long term how to deal with a different U.S. role on the world stage,” Jon Alterman, a global security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank. “How well it works out, whether they end up being surprised, or whether they end up having calibrated it fairly well is going to be what either makes or breaks this summit.”
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