Behind-the-scenes discord rattles G-7 summit despite Donald Trump's claim that all is well

Michael Collins, USA TODAY

BIARRITZ, France – President Donald Trump denied reports Sunday of tension among world leaders at the G-7 summit in southwest France, insisting that he was having “good meetings” and that everyone was getting along well.

“From the moment we got here, we’ve been treated beautifully,” he said during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But behind the scenes, there were signs of discord.

Trump aides complained to reporters that French President Emmanuel Macron had arranged the agenda to focus on issues such as climate change that would play well in his home country and make Trump look bad, given Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of an international climate accord.

At one point Sunday morning, the discord spilled into the public over France’s claim that the G-7 leaders had authorized Macron to send a joint message to Iran on their behalf.

Trump said he never signed off on any such statement.

“No, I haven’t discussed that,” he told reporters at his meeting with Abe.

Asked if he supported Macron’s outreach to Iran, Trump said “sure” but stressed that the United States would speak for itself.

“We'll do our own outreach,” he said. “But, you know, I can't stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk.”

A few hours later, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Islamic Republic's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, had landed in the French city hosting the G-7 summit, although he  will neither negotiate nor meet with U.S. officials while there.

Asked to confirm whether Zarif was coming to Biarritz and if he’d be meeting with him, Trump responded curtly: “No comment.”

The G-7 gathering, which is unfolding over three days at a French coastal resort at the foot of the Pyrennes, comes as Trump is facing pressure from other world leaders on a number of fronts, particularly his escalating trade war with China.

Even one of Trump’s closest allies in the group, British Prime Minster Boris Johnson, suggested a “dialing down” of the tensions with Beijing.

More: 'Right man for the job': Trump talks trade with Boris Johnson at G-7 summit in France

For a while on Sunday, Trump seemed to soften his tone, signaling to reporters that he regrets how the trade war with China has escalated into the two nations slapping tariffs on each other’s imported goods.

A few hours later, however, the White House backtracked and said that he had been “greatly misinterpreted.” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said the only thing Trump regrets is that he didn’t place higher tariffs on Chinese imports.

For the most part, G-7 members – the U.S., France, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan – have managed to keep their disagreement behind closed doors and out of the views of television cameras.

Though Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have had a rocky relationship, there were no open signs of tension between the two when they sat down for a meeting Sunday.

In brief remarks to reporters, Trump and Trudeau focused on a trade agreement the two countries struck last year with Mexico.

“We have a deal that we were able to negotiate that’s good for our workers, good for our citizens, good for the middle class,” Trudeau said. “And that’s the kind of thing that we need to see more of around the world.”

Trump’s public interactions with Macron also have appeared cordial, even warm.

Trump described an impromptu luncheon with the French leader on Saturday as “the best hour and a half I’ve ever spent with him.”

Later that night, Trump and Macron patted each other on the shoulder several times as they stood outside a mid-19th century lighthouse with views of the French coast and posed for photos with their wives before the summit’s opening night dinner.

Early Sunday morning, Trump took to Twitter and accused the media of trying to stir up trouble among G-7 leaders.

“Before I arrived in France, the Fake and Disgusting News was saying that relations with the 6 others countries in the G-7 are very tense, and that the two days of meetings will be a disaster,” he wrote.

But, “we are having very good meetings, the Leaders are getting along very well, and our Country, economically, is doing great – the talk of the world!” he said.

A few hours later, he again slammed the news media for what he said was “inaccurate reporting” of tensions during the G-7 leaders’ opening dinner.

“We had a really good dinner last night,” Trump insisted. “You can write whatever you want to write. But it was false reporting.”

Yet despite Trump’s claim that all is well, the summit is expected to end Monday without proffering a formal agreement from the G-7 leaders – the first time that has happened in the group’s 44-year history.

Trump refused to sign the joint agreement at last year’s summit in Canada and then attacked the Canadian prime minister over trade.

Given the group’s differences on issues such as climate change, Macron said such an agreement would be pointless.

President Donald Trump poses with other G7 leaders and guests for a

More: At G7, EU warns it will respond 'in kind' if Trump puts tariff on French wine

Contributing: John Fritze

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump at G-7: President denies behind-the-scenes discord at summit