Trump, other G-7 leaders set to disagree over trade, climate

(From left) European Council president Donald Tusk, British Prime Minister Theresa May, US President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel
(From left) European Council president Donald Tusk, British Prime Minister Theresa May, US President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Taormina in Sicily yesterday for the G-7 summit. They are scheduled to discuss terrorism, Syria, the global economy and North Korea during the two-day talks.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAORMINA (Italy) • Leaders from major industrialised nations are in talks at a Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Sicily that is expected to expose deep divisions with United States President Donald Trump over trade and climate change.

The two-day summit, at a clifftop hotel overlooking the Mediterranean, began yesterday, a day after Mr Trump blasted Nato allies for spending too little on defence and called Germany's trade surplus "very bad" at a meeting with European Union officials in Brussels.

He received warm receptions in Saudi Arabia and Israel, but his confrontational stance with longstanding partners in Europe cast a cloud over the meeting in Taormina, where leaders are scheduled to discuss terrorism, Syria, the global economy and North Korea.

Before going into closed-door meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday, Mr Trump said the "problem" of an increasingly belligerent North Korea would be "solved".

Mr Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who chairs summits of EU leaders, said before the main meeting: "No doubt, this will be the most challenging G-7 summit in years."

White House economic adviser Gary Cohn predicted "robust"discussions on trade and climate.

Mr Trump was elected last November after a campaign in which he rejected many of the tenets that the G-7 has stood for, including free trade, multilateralism and liberal democratic values.

European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and new French President Emmanuel Macron, had hoped to use the summit to convince Mr Trump to soften some of his stances.

But diplomats conceded as the talks began that the US was unlikely to budge, so the final communique could be watered down significantly compared with the one unveiled at the summit in Japan.

The latest summit kicked off with a ceremony at an ancient Greek theatre overlooking the sea, where warships patrolled sparkling blue waters. Nine fighter jets soared into the sky above Taormina, leaving a trail of smoke in the red-white-green colours of the Italian flag. The leaders then adjourned to the San Domenico Palace, a one-time Dominican monastery that is now a hotel.

G-7 leaders were expected to issue a separate statement on terrorism yesterday, before issuing their formal communique today.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was to lead a discussion on terrorism just days after the concert bomb attack in Manchester. She was expected to issue a call for G-7 countries to put more pressure on Internet firms to ensure extremist content is quickly taken offline and notified to the authorities.

With the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the retreat in Iraq and Syria, "the fight is moving from the battlefield to the Internet", Mrs May would tell her colleagues, said aides, before flying home early to oversee the ongoing "critical" security situation in Britain.

But trade and climate, set to be discussed late yesterday, remain the most contentious issues.

Mr Trump, who dismissed human-made global warming as a "hoax"during his election campaign, is threatening to pull the US out of the 2015 Paris climate deal.

Fellow G-7 leaders are trying to convince him to stay in. Mr Cohn and other administration officials have said that Mr Trump will wait until after the summit to decide.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline 'Trump, other G-7 leaders set to disagree over trade, climate'. Print Edition | Subscribe