President Trump Attends G-7 Meeting At A Time Of Great Tension

Jun 8, 2018
Originally published on June 8, 2018 10:24 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump is on his way to Canada for a meeting with a Group of Seven major industrialized nations. Moments before departing, the president made some news. Talking with reporters, he called for Russia - Russia - to be restored to its place at the gathering of economic powers. It used to be called the G-8 informally. Russia was kicked out of the group for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. So let's start our talk right there with NPR's Sarah McCammon, who covers the White House, has been following the president this morning. Hey there, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: Why does the president say Russia should get back in?

MCCAMMON: Well, as he put it, he said, we have a world to run. And he said, I know it's not politically correct, but Russia should be at that meeting. And he said, you know, I love our country. I've been Russia's worst nightmare. But why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting?

And, of course, Steve, the answer to that question is that Russia was unanimously expelled by all the other members of what was then the G-8 back in 2014 over Russia's annexation of Crimea. The body thought that was an egregious violation of Ukraine's sovereignty. And so this adds some considerable awkwardness to what's an already tense situation as Trump heads to the G-7 in Canada.

INSKEEP: And I guess we're obliged to mention since the president says I've been Russia's worst nightmare, every other finding has been to the opposite. The U.S. intelligence community found that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and did so on President Trump's side. And there are plenty of foreign policy analysts who've argued that the president's disruptions of U.S. alliances and so forth have been to Russia's benefit.

MCCAMMON: And as we well know, the investigation into Russian collusion is still underway.

INSKEEP: He mentioned that as well, did he?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. And he called it a witch hunt again. And he said, you know, that - he said he has the right to pardon himself but that that won't be necessary because he hasn't done anything wrong. That's been the line from the White House on this all along.

INSKEEP: OK. So the president offers this olive branch or this word of support for Russia at the same time that he's had some quite negative actions about U.S. allies, including some of the people that he will meet who will be at the G-7 meeting, right?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. He's been trading verbal barbs largely on Twitter with some of these other leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron. He's known for having a good relationship with Macron, but they've gone back and forth, he and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

And, of course, Steve, this is all because of steel and aluminum tariffs that the U.S. has imposed on Canada, the EU and Japan. That has strained the relationship between the U.S. and these countries heading into these meetings. The allies have responded with retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. and expressions of lots of concern and disappointment. And it's worth noting that the president has two bilateral meetings today with both Macron and Trudeau.

INSKEEP: And I guess you mentioned those tweets. I'm looking at the text of some of these tweets. Emmanuel Macron says, the American president may not mind being isolated but neither do we mind signing a six-country agreement if need be.

What does it mean, a six-country agreement?

MCCAMMON: Basically, that means cutting the U.S. out. And I should note, Steve, that at the same time, President Trump is reiterating his willingness to walk away from NAFTA, something he said before. And, you know, kind of fighting words as he heads into the summit here. I think we have that tape.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If we're unable to make a deal, we'll terminate NAFTA. We'll have better deal. If we are unable to make a deal, we will be better off right now. We are not going to live with the deals the way they are.

MCCAMMON: And he added, though, when it all straightens out, we'll all be in love again. So we'll see.

INSKEEP: OK. We're talking with NPR's Sarah McCammon. She covers the White House and was listening today as President Trump spoke with reporters. And we should be clear here, Sarah. It's been hundreds of days since the president of the United States has held a full-blown news conference. But he did talk with reporters for a little while today, right?

MCCAMMON: Right. He went on unusually long and covered a wide range of topics, from the G-7 summit to pardons.

INSKEEP: Pardons, what about pardons?

MCCAMMON: So he was asked about his recent - he's recently pardoned or talked about pardoning a number of high-profile people. You think of the boxer - the late boxer Jack Johnson on the advice of actor Sylvester Stallone, Alice Marie Johnson, the woman who was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. He commuted that sentence on the advice of Kim Kardashian West.

And now, he says he's thinking about pardoning some 3,000 more people, including the late boxer Muhammad Ali, who was convicted, I think, back in the '60s of not being willing to fight in the Vietnam War. That was later overturned. But Trump says the paperwork is already underway for that pardon.

INSKEEP: Did you say 3,000 people pardoned?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, 3,000 people under consideration. And as we said before, he reiterated that he believes he also has the right to pardon himself, although he says he will not need to because he's done nothing wrong.

INSKEEP: OK. Quite a lot to talk about, and there'll be more throughout the day. Sarah, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sarah McCammon on President Trump's remarks as he heads to the G-7 summit this weekend in Canada. Of course, we're just days away from another summit with the leader of North Korea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.