The readmission of Russia in the Group of Seven most industrialised countries became a bone of contention between Donald Trump and his partners during a summit held in Biarritz (France), as the Europeans and Canada insisted on maintaining the group as a “club of liberal democracies”.
The summit, scheduled to wrap up on Monday (26 August), saw an unexpected turn when Iranian foreign affairs minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, landed in Biarritz. His arrival followed the discussions on Saturday night on the Iranian nuclear programme, one of the main topics of the summit.
An Élyssée source said that leaders had “converged” on basic goals with regards to how to deal with Iran.
This paved the way for the Iranian minister’s visit to continue talks with the French government, which is taking the lead to try to save the nuclear deal with Tehran.
But this convergence was insufficient to hide the deep divisions of the likeminded countries that erupted almost from the start.
“This may be the last moment to restore our political community,” had warned European Council president, Donald Tusk, hours before the G7 kicked off in the idyllic coastal city of Biarritz.
Trump clashed again with his closest international allies on foreign topics, in particular on the readmission of Russia in the restricted group.
And despite Zarif’s arrival, the US commander-in-chief ruled out that the G7 nations had tasked the host, French President Emmanuel Macron with negotiating with Iran its full compliance with the international agreement to contain its nuclear programme in exchange for some easing of the economic sanctions.
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US agreed on ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons and are committed with the stability and peace of the region, said Macron on Sunday.
Trump argued during the restricted dinner discussion on Saturday that the Iranian dossier precisely proved that Russia should be back at the G7 table.
But a European source debriefed on the discussions, since the leaders where alone at the table, said that the European partners and Canada were opposed to readmitting Moscow, given that the G7 is a “club of liberal democracies”.
In addition, the illegal occupation of Crimea, the reason why Russia was excluded five years ago, still remains an obstacle, a Canadian official told EURACTIV.com.
Tusk said on Saturday that, instead of Russia, the G7 should welcome as a guest Ukraine next year, a proposal he said he would extend to the rest of G7 countries.
However the issue would hardly reach the necessary unanimity, even less since Trump will chair the group next year.
The clash over foreign issues came as Macron tried to contain past disagreements over trade and climate.
The host had planned to restore the G7’s “relevance and effectiveness”. To that end, he took the unprecedented decision of ditching the conclusions of the summit.
Drafting these final communiqués in the G7 and G20 gatherings became a diplomatic fight between the US and most of the nations since Trump arrived to the White House, mostly because of his views on tariffs and the fight against global warming.
He called Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau “very dishonest and weak” after the Canadian mentioned the “crucial role of a rules-based international trading system” agreed during the G7 summit he chaired last year in Quebec (Canada).
But his year’s session on trade issues and international taxation was not particularly. tense, a European source explained.
G7 leaders will come back to these topics on Monday, with France expected to raise its proposal for a digital tax on Facebook, Google and the like, which is questioned by Washington.
The shared concern of global leaders about the wildfires in the Amazon rainforest was one of the few issues discussed during the summit where consensus appeared possible.
The G7 expressed their full solidarity with Amazon countries, and offered their support, in particular to Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. In addition, they were ready to contribute to the reforestation of the rainforest.
The delegations had agreed in advance on other sectorial declarations on gender equality, a G7-Africa partnership, a charter on biodiversity and a strategy for an open, free and secure digital transformation.
The French presidency of the G7 also put a special focus on the fight against inequality, in particular gender inequality.
Some of these issues were discussed late on Sunday over dinner, when leaders of various countries and multilateral organisations were invited to attend.
Earlier that day, the session focused mostly on the reform of the World Trade Organisation, in particular the renovation of the appellate body that should take place by December.
This court is seen as a key piece of the multilateral organisation to channel the trade disputes.
The other big issue was how to rein in China’s unfair trade and economic practices.
Brussels and Washington both see Beijing as a “systemic threat” to the global economy, said an European source.
Europeans, however, still hold hope on cooperating with Chinese authorities to open up their economy and put to an end the forced transfer of technology foreign companies suffer there.
But Trump decided to escalate its tariff war against Beijing to rebalance the trade relationship on the eve of the summit.
When he was asked about the additional levies, given the market turmoil triggered, Trump surprised reporters on Sunday by saying that he had “second thoughts about everything,”
But a White House spokesperson explained that he was “greatly misinterpreted,” saying the US President “regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”
Trump and Johnson
Trump met with UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Sunday over breakfast. The US President promised the Tory leader that both countries would work out quickly a”very big trade deal, bigger than we’ve ever had” between the two economies.
This would be possible because “at some point they won’t have the obstacle, they won’t have the anchor around their ankle, because that’s what they have,” he said in a veiled criticism to the EU.
Asked whether he gave any advice for him on Brexit, Trump said Johnson “needs no advice.”
“He is the right man for the job,” he replied. “This is a person that’s going to be a great prime minister, in my opinion,” said the US President, giving his full backing to Johnson, who attended his first summit since he took over from Theresa May.
While cosying up to Trump, Johnson upset his European partners by questioning his obligation to pay the Brexit bill if his country exits the EU without a deal on 31 October.
“If we come out without a deal then…the 39 billion is no longer legally pledged,” Johnson told Sky News on Sunday.
But European sources insisted that this money is legally owned to the EU, and failing to pay could be equivalent to a sovereign debt default, according to the Élyssée.
The Brexit bill did not come up during Johnson’s bilateral meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk on Sunday. A European source said that the meeting went on a “positive atmosphere”, but no progress was made as the Europeans are waiting for the UK’s alternative plan to avoid the controversial backstop.
“The ball is really squarely and firmly in the UK court,” the European official added.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]