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G-7 leaders cautious as Trump suggests face-to-face summit

President Trump said Thursday he would “probably” host the Group of Seven summit at the White House in June, two months after canceling the annual gathering of world leaders and a day after saying he might revive a plan to hold it at Camp David.

“It looks like G-7 will be on. A full G-7,” Trump told reporters as he left for a day trip to Michigan. “We’re going to probably have it at the White House.”

Member countries — which remain under varying levels of lockdown and whose leaders have not left home since the pandemic began — were not notified that Trump had resurrected plans for a face-to-face summit until after he said Wednesday on Twitter that he was considering it. 

“Now that our Country is ‘Transitioning back to Greatness,’ ” he tweeted, the summit would be “a great sign to all — normalization!”

In addition to wanting to prove things are heading back to normal, Trump was furious with the media coverage of last year’s G-7 summit and wants to be on the world stage “completely dominating the U.S. media for days and days and days,” said one Trump adviser.

France hosted the 2019 summit, with an agenda that included gender equality, education and the environment — subjects of limited interest to Trump — and invited a host of leaders from the developing world. This year, the adviser said, Trump wants to concentrate on the global response to the virus, what he sees as China’s faults and economic recovery.

In the midst of his reelection campaign, Trump has tried to divert criticism of the administration’s response to the pandemic to China, where the novel coronavirus emerged. His decision to stop funding the World Health Organization, in the midst of the crisis, and failure to show up at the WHO’s virtual international assembly this week were widely criticized in Europe and beyond.

By all accounts, a visit to the United States — the country with the world’s highest number of virus cases and deaths — is an uncomfortable prospect for world leaders, especially because they have cautioned their own citizens to stay home.

So far, their public responses have been noncommittal.

French President Emmanuel Macron was the most positive, saying he was “willing to go to Camp David if the health conditions allow.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded cryptically to a reporter in Berlin asking whether she would attend. “Whether as a video conference or otherwise, I will definitely fight for multilateralism,” she said. Asked again about attendance, Merkel replied: “I wanted to say what I said. . . . I chose my words wisely.”

A spokesman for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose country is still partially under a state of emergency, said the proposal was being discussed within that government.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it an interesting idea and said there were important issues to be discussed. “We’ll certainly take a look at what the U.S. is proposing . . . to see what kinds of measures will be in place to keep people safe, what kind of recommendations the experts are giving in terms of how that might function,” Trudeau said.

Spokesmen for the British and Italian governments said they were awaiting details of U.S. plans.

All of those comments came Wednesday, following Trump’s tweet, and it was unclear whether Trump’s plan to hold the meeting at the White House, rather than at Camp David, the isolated presidential compound in the Maryland mountains, would affect their calculations.

In his Thursday remarks, Trump said that his plans included “maybe a little combination” of events between the White House and Camp David. “But primarily the White House.” An aide to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Hogan was not given a heads-up on plans to revive the summit there.

Early this year, Trump first floated the idea of holding the summit at his golf resort in Miami, provoking criticism of self-dealing and security concerns. He then said it would take place at Camp David, before canceling the face-to-face event in mid-March, saying that a virtual summit would be held.

While a Trump proclamation banning travel here from Europe remains in effect, it includes exceptions for those working on the virus and anyone whose presence is determined to be in the national interest.

But “what about social distancing? What about quarantining? If there are rules, there are rules,” said a senior official in one G-7 government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. The summits, which alternate host countries each year, are seen as particularly useful because of the close, private proximity of the small group of leaders and their staffs.

Outside of U.S. hearing, the others are “consulting among each other,” this official said. “For the moment, no decision has been taken.” The official stressed the importance of all agreeing on a course of action, saying it “would be weird” if some leaders came while others opted out.

“But we don’t know how they’re going to organize” a summit for which each leader is traditionally accompanied by dozens of aides,” said an official from a second G-7 country. “Even with just a couple of advisers, for the White House, that’s a lot.”

“I don’t see how you can do a full-fledged summit” with stringent health restrictions and on such relatively short notice, this second official said. “It’s such huge machinery. . . . You need weeks to organize something, even if it’s with fewer people and limited delegations.”

|The Washington Post

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