WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump said on Saturday (May 30) he will delay the G7 summit scheduled to take place in June and invite other countries - including Russia - to join the meeting.
"I'm postponing it because don't feel that as a G7 it properly represents what's going on in the world. It's a very outdated group of countries," Mr Trump told reporters on Air Force One during his return to Washington from Cape Canaveral.
Mr Trump wants to supplement the gathering of traditional G7 allies with those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and also to discuss the future of China, said White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah, travelling with the president.
The summit could happen in September, either before or after the UN General Assembly, Mr Trump said. The UN General Assembly is scheduled to open - potentially virtually, not in person - on Sept 15 and run through Sept 30.
"Maybe I'll do it after the election," Mr Trump said. The US presidential election is Nov 3. "I think a good time would be before the election."
"So it might be a G10, G11, and it could be after the election is over," he added.
Mr Trump said he would like to invite Russia, South Korea, Australia and India to join an expanded summit. The coronavirus and relations with China are likely to be major topics.
China, the world's No 2 economy, was not among Mr Trump's proposed attendees as tensions between Washington and Beijing run high over the coronavirus and Hong Kong.
Instead, Trump would bring in Australia, which has joined with the United States in criticising China about the spread of coronavirus around the world, and has faced economic reprisals as a result.
The move to invite Russia will be controversial. Russia was suspended from what was then the Group of Eight major economies in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea. Mr Trump has mused before about bringing Moscow back into the fold but various G7 governments have rebuffed this idea.
South Korea on Sunday (May 31) said it is aware of Mr Trump's invitation to join this year's G7 summit and will discuss the matter with the US, a government official said.
Australia said it would welcome an official invitation and there has been contact on the matter between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the United States, a government spokesman said on Sunday.
"The G7 has been a topic of recent high-level exchanges," the spokesman said in an emailed comment. "Australia would welcome an official invitation. Strengthening international cooperation among like-minded countries is valued at a time of unprecedented global challenges."
US-Australia ties have been strong, even though recent White House comments on the origins of the coronavirus outbreak have frustrated Australia's push for an independent inquiry, sources told Reuters. The two security partners also diverged radically in their management of the pandemic.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been so far one of very few world leaders to pay a state visit to Washington during Mr Trump's tenure, and both leaders have openly signalled their camaraderie. Mr Morrison, unlike some European leaders, has avoided criticising Mr Trump publicly and has teamed up with the US in its tougher stance against China, Australia's main trading partner.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated this weekend that she was hesitant to travel to the US in June for a physical G-7 meeting.
"She's unable to confirm her personal participation," a German government spokesman said of Mrs Merkel in an emailed statement on Saturday.
Leaders from the Group of Seven, which the United States heads this year, had been scheduled to meet by video conference in late June after the coronavirus pandemic scuttled plans to gather in-person at Camp David, the US presidential retreat outside Washington.
The decision is a dramatic pivot for Mr Trump, who had sought to host the group of major industrialised countries as a demonstration that the US was returning to normal after its Covid-19 outbreak, which has killed more than 103,000 Americans to date.
Mr Trump had only last week indicated that he could hold the huge gathering after all, "primarily at the White House" but also potentially parts of it at Camp David.
The G7 major advanced countries - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States - hold annual meetings to discuss international economic coordination. The work is now more important as they struggle to repair coronavirus-inflicted damage.