What Will Come Out of Trump's Meeting With the Group of Seven?

Analysts say that, with Trump at the helm, anything is possible.
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President Donald Trump will travel to Sicily on Friday, where he'll partake in a two-day meeting with the so-called Group of Seven, or G7, countries. The stakes here are high for Trump, analysts say: He must prove to world leaders his ability to participate in high-level policy discussions.

The G7 is an annual meeting of some of the world's top-performing economic powers—Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States—and is designed to encourage the discussion of economic and political issues. Some of those countries have expressed consternation over Trump's program; German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, has butted heads with Trump in recent months over his calls that Berlin start paying "vast sums" it owes toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"This may be a meeting like so many of the others, in which it is the U.S. that must re-assure others of the continuity of its commitments," says Arthur Stein, a political science professor at the University of California–Los Angeles. "Trump has pedaled back in a number of areas, and this is just another one where there may be backpedaling."

Some analysts have predicted, going by his previous interactions with international counterparts, that Trump will discuss new trade pacts and demand greater defense spending for international military efforts. Still, the meeting won't yield very much, they say, owing to Trump's protectionism.

"Trump's skeptical attitude toward both trade and alliances means that this meeting is likely to be more strained than most," says Kenneth Schultz, a political science professor at Stanford University. "It's possible that Trump will use the setting as a way to demand new trade relations or to press allies for greater contributions to defense."

Bringing together recently elected leaders—not only from the U.S., but also France and Britain—the G7 may set the tone for future collaborations, even if it doesn't result in groundbreaking agreements.

"I doubt that any major developments will come from the meeting, since it will mostly be a chance for Trump and other new European leaders like [French President Emmanuel] Macron and [British Prime Minister Theresa] May to meet one another in person and sound each other out," Schultz says."

UCLA's Stein anticipates that non-participants likely won't hear much of what comes out of the meetings.

"The standard game plan for dealing with Trump is to praise him and talk about the importance of what is being recommended for U.S. jobs," Stein says. "Also, everyone has been told to keep their presentations short because of Trump's attention span. And they've decided not to have a public statement of what has been agreed upon because they are worried that he would, if asked, disagree in public with what he had agreed to in the meeting."

At G7 meetings, host countries typically set the agenda, Stein adds. Italy's flailing economy and chronically high unemployment rates are likely to be on the agenda. The subject of refugees may also come up at the meeting, which takes place in what has for years been an entry point for new arrivals escaping upheaval in Africa and Asia.

"The standard game plan for dealing with Trump is to praise him and talk about the importance of what is being recommended for U.S. jobs."

But analysts agree it is unlikely that the meeting will result in any major shift in Trump's bid to bar refugees and other immigrants from the U.S.

"There may be some discussion of refugees, but nothing by way of agreement," Stein predicts.

Schultz agrees that, even in Sicily, at the heart of the refugee crisis, it's unlikely Trump would suddenly experience a change of heart and pledge to work alongside his European counterparts currently bearing the brunt of the problem.

"I suspect the matter of refugees will make an appearance at the meeting, and there is likely to be media attention on the issue," Schultz says. "But Trump is unlikely to alter his position, since opposition to immigration and refugees is one of the few areas where he has been consistent from the campaign trail to the presidency. His supporters are giving him a lot of leeway on other issues, but I suspect a big shift on refugees would jeopardize his base support, and he can't risk that with all of the other problems he faces at home."

Notably absent from the meeting is Russia. Originally admitted to the group in 1998, the G7 booted Russia in 2014 over disagreements regarding the annexation of Crimea.

Whether Russia's participation will come up is unclear, particularly in light of the climate in Washington, D.C., where a special prosecutor has been appointed to look into allegations of the Trump presidential campaign's ties to Moscow in the 2016 presidential election.

Analysts say it would also come as a surprise to hear discussion of Russia making a comeback at this or future G7 meetings.

"I would be very surprised if Trump raised the issue, given all of the attention to his close dealings with Russia during and since the campaign," Schultz says. "It would be a politically awkward time to twist arms of the other G7 members on Russia's behalf."

A re-introduction of Moscow into the G7 would need to involve not just Trump, but a consensus of the other participants, something that Stein says would be impossible for Moscow to obtain.

"There would need to be agreement on re-inviting them and there is no chance of that. As it was, in the past the Russians were only invited to one of the two days of the meetings," he says. "Moreover, the Russians are still being sanctioned for their behavior in Crimea and Ukraine, and as long as those are in place, there is no pathway for a Russian return to these annual summits. Moreover, the rise of authoritarianism in Russia also does not predispose to re-inviting them."

Still, surprises abound in the time of Trump; anything is possible.

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