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Trump says 'let Russia back in' to G-7 summit

·White House Correspondent
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WASHINGTON — President Trump suggested a dramatic reordering of the global order as he departed for a G-7 summit on Friday morning. Speaking to reporters before boarding Marine One to head to the meeting in Canada, Trump suggested that Russia be allowed back into the group of the world’s top economic powers, which currently includes the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. Russia was previously a participant in the group, which was known as the G-8 or Group of Eight, but was ejected in 2014 after its invasion and annexation of Crimea, a province of Ukraine.

“Russia should be in this meeting. Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting? And I would recommend — and it’s up to them — but Russia should be in the meeting. It should be a part of it,” Trump said, adding, “You know, 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. They should let Russia back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

A return to the group would be a major coup for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly pushed for Western powers to accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which is a NATO ally.

Trump boasted about taking a tough stance toward Russia and asserted that Putin would actually have preferred dealing with Hillary Clinton. That contradicts the conclusion of the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, echoing findings by American intelligence, that Russian interference in the 2016 election was primarily intended to benefit Trump.

“I love our country. I have been Russia’s worst nightmare. If Hillary got in — I think Putin is probably going, ‘Man, I wish Hillary won.’ Because you see what I do,” Trump said.

Trump has faced persistent questions about his posture toward Russia. Special counsel Robert Mueller is conducting an ongoing investigation into whether Trump’s team cooperated with Russia’s efforts. Trump has consistently dismissed that probe as a “witch hunt.”

President Trump chats with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as they attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit in Danang, Vietnam, Nov. 11, 2017. (Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump chats with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as they attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit in Danang, Vietnam, Nov. 11, 2017. (Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)

In the past, Trump has pointed to his expansion of the U.S. military budget as evidence he is taking a hard line on Russia. He also expelled Russian diplomats from the U.S. in March following an attack on an ex-spy outside London that month that British officials said was orchestrated by Moscow. But he has declined to implement sanctions against Russia for its 2016 election meddling. Earlier this year, he also held off on issuing sanctions against Moscow for its support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime has launched chemical attacks against civilians.

Trump’s suggestion about allowing Russia to rejoin the G-7 drew swift reaction. Speaking to reporters at the site of the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk quickly rejected the idea.

“Let’s leave seven as it is. It’s a lucky number,” said Tusk, who is the primary political representative of the European Union.

Back in the U.S., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also scoffed at the proposal, calling it “a sure path to diminishing America’s leadership in the world.”

“Vladimir Putin chose to make Russia unworthy of membership in the G-8 by invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. Nothing he has done since then has changed that most obvious fact,” McCain said in a written statement. “Every day, Russian-led separatist forces are killing Ukrainians in the Donbass. Every day, Putin’s forces are helping the Assad regime slaughter the Syrian people. And every day, through assassinations, cyber-attacks, and malign influence, Russia is assaulting democratic institutions all over the world.”

Even Russia itself seemed cool to the idea. “Russia is focused on other formats, apart from the G-7,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a brief statement reported by the government-controlled Sputnik news agency.

But Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, in Canada for the meeting, backed Trump’s suggestion. “I agree with President [Trump]. Russia should be re-admitted into the G8. It is in the interests of everyone,” Conte said in a tweet.

Trump’s comments about returning Russia to the G-7 came amid heightened tension with American allies on trade. As part of his “America First” economic agenda, Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports on Canada, the European Union and Japan. In recent days, he has engaged in a war of words about the tariffs with French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

As he left for the summit, which will take place on Friday and Saturday in Quebec, Trump said he “may leave a little bit early” for Singapore, where he will meet next week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. According to the White House, he will skip a Saturday session on climate change, where the U.S. has been at odds with the rest of the G-7 and the other signatories to the Paris climate agreement.

Trump also attacked members of the group for their trade policies.

“All of these countries have been taking advantage of the United States on trade. You saw where Canada charges our dairy farmers 270 percent tariffs. We don’t charge them, or if we do it’s like a tiny percentage. So we … have to straighten it out,” said Trump. “We have massive trade deficits with almost every country.”

Trump predicted that “we will straighten that out” thanks to his negotiating prowess.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s what I do. It won’t even be hard, and in the end we’ll all get along,” Trump said.

Trump said America’s allies ignore trade imbalances, citing their cooperation with America on security matters.

A Canadian mounted police officer stands next to the logo ahead of the G-7 summit in Quebec, Canada, June 6, 2018. (Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters)
A Canadian mounted police officer stands next to the logo ahead of the G-7 summit in Quebec, Canada, June 6, 2018. (Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters)

“They’re trying to act like, ‘Well, we fought with you in the wars.’ … They don’t mention the fact that they have trade barriers against our farmers. They don’t mention the fact that they’re charging almost 300 percent tariffs,” Trump said.

Nevertheless, he ended his remarks on the subject on an optimistic note.

“When it all straightens out, we’ll all be in love again,” said Trump.

Kadia Tubman contributed reporting.

(Cover tile photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)


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