But the real shocker, and unprecedented, is what came after in his comments upon return from Cape Canaveral to Washington: he blasted the Group of Seven meeting format as a “very outdated group of countries” and expressed that he plans to invite four additional non-member nations, mostly notably Russia.
“I’m postponing it because I don’t feel that as a G7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world,” Trump said. In addition to the usual seven of the US, Italy, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, and United Kingdom, Trump said he’ll include for the first time Australia, Russia, South Korea and India.
Needless to say, both America’s allies and national security state hawks are going to flip, given especially the sensitivity of the Ukraine issue. Recall that what was once the G8 became the G7 after in 2014 Russia was kicked out over the Crimea annexation amid the war in eastern Ukraine.
It’s a hugely unexpected pivot at a moment of multiple domestic and global crises, but maybe some level of a “distraction” over this tumultuous weekend across multiple US cities is precisely the point.
After President Trump for the first time last week pushed for an in-person G7 summit, which is at this moment still officially on the schedule as a video-conference meeting in late June due to the pandemic (it was originally planned for Camp David), Germany says Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected the change in plan, saying she won’t be in attendance.
This after Trump extended concrete plans to hold the gathering — which includes heads of the US, Italy, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, United Kingdom, also European Union leaders — “primarily at the White House” but also possibly parts in Camp David in Maryland as well.
“As of today, considering the overall pandemic situation, she cannot agree to her personal participation, to a journey to Washington,” Merkel’s spokesman said, which followed a Friday night report in Politico. “She will of course continue to monitor the development of the pandemic.”
“The federal chancellor thanks President Trump for his invitation to the G7 summit,” the spokesman added.
It’s clear from the statement citing pandemic fears that the German leader thinks it too early to gather in person. Trump pushed it as a hopeful sign of “normalization”.
Now that our Country is “Transitioning back to Greatness”, I am considering rescheduling the G-7, on the same or similar date, in Washington, D.C., at the legendary Camp David. The other members are also beginning their COMEBACK. It would be a great sign to all – normalization!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2020
The president tweeted on May 20, “It would be a great sign to all — normalization!” — explaining that a rescheduled in-person summit would be a sign of the retreat and defeat of the virus, and economic recovery.
The White House viewed a normal summit gathering as a “show of strength” to the world as economies in the West slowly open back up, however, such a key G7 country as Germany giving a firm ‘no’ will likely put a crimp in the plans.
Other countries have issued vaguely positive responses but more likely are remaining on the fence, likely to take cues from first-movers like Germany.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “agreed on the importance of convening the G7 in person in the near future” according to a Friday White House statement, while Canada’s Trudeau said he’d entertain it as long as safety was prioritized, and France’s Macron said he was “willing to go to Camp David if the health conditions allow”.