President Donald Trump on Friday called for Russia to be reinstated into the group of the world’s largest economies, drawing the ire of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and further inflaming tensions at the G-7 meeting in Canada.
“Now, I love our country. I have been Russia’s worst nightmare,” Trump said. “But with that being said, Russia should be in this meeting. Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting?”
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Trump made the remarks on the White House South Lawn as he left for the G-7 summit in Quebec, which he will depart from early in order to travel to Singapore, where he is scheduled to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next week.
His suggestion that the G-7 welcome Russia back into the fold is likely to heighten tensions in Quebec, where the president is expected to meet with allies irate over his decision to impose tariffs on imports from Canada and the European Union. In recent days, Trump has engaged in a war of words with French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The G-7, short for Group of Seven, was the G-8 until 2014, when the group’s members expelled Russia over its invasion and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The G-7’s current membership comprises the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Britain.
“I would recommend — and it’s up to them, but Russia should be in the meeting, it should be a part of it. You know, whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run,” Trump told reporters. “And in the G-7, which used to be the G-8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in. Because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
Trump’s suggestion that Russia be brought back into the exclusive club of industrialized nations earned at least one endorsement Friday — that of Italy’s new, right-wing prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, who wrote on Twitter that he agreed with the U.S. president.
But the British government raised alarms about the proposal, which also brought bipartisan scorn from U.S. lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).
“President Trump is turning our foreign policy into an international joke, doing lasting damage to our country, without any rhyme or reason. We need the president to be able to distinguish between our allies and adversaries, and to treat each accordingly. On issue after issue, he’s failed to do that,” Schumer said in a statement. “The president’s support for inviting Russia back into the G-7, just after they meddled in the election to support his campaign, will leave millions of Americans with serious questions and suspicions.”
“This is weak. Putin is not our friend and he is not the president’s buddy,” Sasse said in his own statement. “He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America, and our leaders should act like it.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic who tangled with the president earlier this week, was blunt in a tweet: “No, Russia should not be added to the G-7.”
Flake’s Arizona colleague, GOP Sen. John McCain, was similarly critical of the president’s suggestion in a statement emailed to reporters Friday afternoon.
“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. “The President has inexplicably shown our adversaries the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies.”
Trump’s support for Russia’s reentry into the group of the world’s most powerful economies adds to the lengthy list of warm gestures he has offered for the Kremlin and its leader, President Vladimir Putin. Critics of the president have long complained that his foreign policy is too soft on Russia, which the U.S. intelligence community has said sought to interfere in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, especially relative to the president’s get-tough approach to foreign policy elsewhere around the globe.
But while Trump’s rhetoric toward Russia, and Putin in particular, has been noticeably warmer than that of his predecessor, the president and his administration have pointed often to significant steps taken against the Kremlin, including new sanctions, the expulsion of dozens of diplomats and the forced closure of Russia’s two West Coast consulates, in Seattle and San Francisco.
“If Hillary got in, I think Putin is probably going, ‘Man, I wish Hillary won,’ because you see what I do,” Trump said on Friday about his harsher actions against Russia.
Russia had been scheduled to host the G-8 summit in 2014 and had been planning to hold the leaders’ gathering in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, which was also the site of the Winter Olympics that year. But after Russian troops invaded Crimea, officials quickly rescheduled for Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union, which participates in both the G-7 and the G-20. Russia remains a part of the larger group.
Trump has run afoul of some of America’s closest allies in the run-up to the Quebec gathering.
He has devoted significant focus in recent weeks to resetting U.S. trade relationships around the globe, complaining especially loudly about what he says is unfair treatment by top trade partners like Canada and the EU. The president’s decision to impose tariffs on both earned him a stern rebuke from Trudeau and the leaders of multiple major EU nations.
Trump was originally scheduled to meet Friday for two bilateral meetings, one with Trudeau and another with Macron, although the White House said Friday morning that Trump was running late and that the Macron meeting would have to be rescheduled for later in the day. Trudeau’s greeting of Trump ahead of their meeting appeared somewhat stiff but was marked mostly by handshakes and pleasantries.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and Macron met informally and “exchanged pleasantries and briefly discussed trade.” She added that Macron and Trump would hold another meeting later Friday.
Macron and Trump both promised this week to confront Trump over his recent decision to impose tariffs on U.S. allies, using blunt language to describe their positions.
“Maybe the American president doesn’t care about being isolated today, but we don’t mind being six, if needs be,” Macron said.
Following their joint meeting at the summit, Macron said he and Trump had a “very direct discussion.“ But both of the leaders‘ description of their chat were devoid of the escalating rhetoric they had exchanged in the days and hours leading up the summit.
“I also want to congratulate you, because I‘m reading what‘s going on in France,“ Trump told Macron in front of a gathering of reporters. “You’ve got great courage. You‘re doing the right thing.“
Trump hit back on Twitter late Thursday.
“Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the U.S. massive tariffs and create non-monetary barriers,” he tweeted. “The EU trade surplus with the U.S. is $151 Billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out. Look forward to seeing them tomorrow.”
He added, “Prime Minister Trudeau is being so indignant, bringing up the relationship that the U.S. and Canada had over the many years and all sorts of other things…but he doesn’t bring up the fact that they charge us up to 300% on dairy — hurting our Farmers, killing our Agriculture!”
When asked by reporters Friday morning about the spat, Trump presented it as a temporary trade dispute and that “in the end we’ll all get along.”
“Look, all of these countries have been taking advantage of the United States on trade,” Trump said. “We have massive trade deficits with almost every country. We will straighten that out. And 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. … When it all straightens out, we’ll all be in love again.”
The president later made light of the distance between himself and Trudeau on trade, joking during a bilateral meeting that the prime minister “has agreed to cut all tariffs and all trade barriers between Canada and the United States.“ Trump then reassured reporters the two were “actually working“ on the matter and had “made a lot of progress today.“
Trump managed to draw a laugh from Trudeau and Merkel prior to a working session on Friday afternoon. The president caught sight of New York Times photographer Doug Mills, turned to Trudeau and quipped: “He’s the number one photographer in the world. Unfortunately, he works for The New York Times.”
The remarks, overheard by a pool reporter, prompted laughter from Trudeau and Merkel. Reporters were subsequently escorted out.
Despite numerous other differences, Western leaders have remained united in the need to maintain economic sanctions and other pressure on Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine — not just in Crimea but also in the eastern Donbas region, where it has supported an armed insurgency. An international investigative team recently announced that a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet, Flight MH-17, that was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014 was destroyed by a Russian missile supplied by a specific military unit in southern Russia.
Putin has continued to deny any Russian role in that episode, which killed all 298 people on board. Putin initially denied that Russian military forces had invaded Crimea but later acknowledged that they had done so, and even bestowed awards on soldiers who participated in the operation.
David Herszenhorn and Cristiano Lima contributed to this report.