President Donald Trump said Russia should be allowed back into the G-8 bloc, adding another potential friction point to an-already fraught summit starting Friday with allies in Canada.
“Russia should be in this meeting,” Trump told reporters in Washington as he left the White House. “Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting?”
“Whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run, and in the G-7 which used to be the G-8, they threw Russia out,” he said. “They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
Trump’s comments came ahead of the Group of Seven gathering in Canada, where he will miss at least some of the summit’s second day. There’d been speculation Trump would cancel his appearance at the meeting entirely amid public criticism from allies over steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the U.S. in recent weeks. Instead, he appears ready to fire back with his America First mantra.
“Looking forward to straightening out unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries. If it doesn’t happen, we come out even better!” the president wrote on Twitter, hours before he’s due to arrive in Quebec. “I am heading for Canada and the G-7 for talks that will mostly center on the long time unfair trade practiced against the United States.”
Trump’s Russia comment won a quick endorsement from Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who said on Twitter that Russia’s re-admission would be “in everybody’s interest.” The new government in Rome has previously said that sanctions on Russia damaged Italy’s agriculture industry and its design and handicraft sectors.
Still, the gambit may further inflame tensions with other leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May. Britain’s relations with Russia are at their worst since the Cold War, following the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury this year. After years in which Russia’s wealthy were invited to base themselves in London without questions being asked about how they made their money, the Home Office is reviewing visas.
“Canada’s position has not changed,” Chantal Gagnon, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said in an email.
Russia joined the G-7 in 1998. After its annexation of Crimea, the other seven members shrunk the bloc and effectively kicked Russia out until further notice, starting with a summit in 2014.
Trump has had a volatile relationship with Russia over that nation’s efforts to disrupt the American presidential election in 2016. Under Trump, the U.S. has sanctioned several Russians close to President Vladimir Putin and his circle. Election meddling has also been the focus of an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has been looking into whether any Trump associates colluded in Russian efforts.
The Austrian government has offered to host a summit between Trump and Putin, potentially echoing a historic Cold War meeting there between a newly-elected President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, according to a White House official who was granted anonymity to discuss the matter.
Despite the Russia development, the issue of tariffs may loom largest over Friday’s talks. France’s Emmanuel Macron has warned he won’t sign a joint statement unless Trump makes concessions on trade. “The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be,” he tweeted.
The G-7 summit is shaping up to be the most acrimonious in years, putting pressure on Trudeau as host to bridge a divide between Trump and Europe, with Japan’s Shinzo Abe poised to fall somewhere in the middle. Trump will leave the summit early to attend a summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday.