G7 summit ends on bitter note after US backs out of joint communique; awkward photo of Trump-Merkel goes viral

Hours after putting on an apparent show of unity at the end of a tense G7 summit, the member nations indulged in a war of words, particularly with the US.

The summit was soured by a row over the US president Donald Trump's decision to impose higher import taxes on aluminium and steel imports. However, things went well and the member nations even released a joint statement after agreeing in fields like trade, Iran, and climate change.

But shortly after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said he was "happy to announce that we have released a joint communique by all seven countries" indicating that the US was also included, Trump announced that Washington would reverse its decision and not sign the statement.

Trudeau's statement

In a news conference after the summit, Trudeau reasserted his opposition to the US tariffs and vowed to press ahead with retaliatory moves on 1 July. "Canadians are polite and reasonable but we will also not be pushed around," he said.

Speaking at a post-summit press conference, Trudeau acknowledged that there were major differences with Trump. "What we did this weekend was come together, roll up our sleeves and figure out a consensus language that we could all agree to," Trudeau said in the town of La Malbaie where leaders had been meeting since Friday morning.

Justin Trudeau and G7 leaders Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump take part in a working session on the first day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix. Reuters

Justin Trudeau and G7 leaders Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump take part in a working session on the first day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix. Reuters

"Obviously the president will continue to say what he says." Trudeau again denounced Trump's decision to invoke national security concerns to impose tariffs on aluminium and steel as "insulting" to the Canadian war veterans who had fought alongside US allies.

And he said he told Trump "it would be with regret but it would be with absolute clarity and firmness that we move forward with retaliatory measures on 1 July, applying equivalent tariffs to the ones that the Americans have unjustly applied to us."

Trudeau also said, "The US will not allow other countries to impose massive tariffs and trade barriers on its farmers, workers and companies. While sending their product into our country tax-free." He added, "We have put up with trade abuse for many decades, and that is long enough."

Donald Trump lashes out; Angela Merkel calls his tweets 'depressing'

The G7 summit participants managed to patch over their disagreements and agreed to disagree on some issues in a joint final statement. Yet after leaving the summit for his Tuesday meeting with the leader of North Korea, Trump tweeted that he would instruct US officials not to endorse the G7 statement, after objecting to comments from summit host Trudeau.

Trump took more swipes at Canada and its prime minister over trade issues as he settled in for a summit with North Korea in Singapore, contending that "fair trade is now to be called fool trade if it is not reciprocal." Repeating his criticism of US trade policies with Canada, he also took aim at Germany in a multi-tweet rant that went beyond 200 words all told. At one point he wrote, "Justin acts hurt when called out!"

Trump advisers had taken up the attack in appearances on Sunday's news shows, leveling more withering and unprecedented criticism against Trudeau, branding him a back-stabber unworthy of Trump's time. "There's a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door," Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Fox News Sunday.

Navarro said Trump "did the courtesy to Trudeau to travel up to Quebec for that summit. He had other things, bigger things, on his plate in Singapore. ... He did him a favor and he was even willing to sign that socialist communique. And what did Trudeau do as soon as the plane took off from Canadian airspace? Trudeau stuck our president in the back. That will not stand." Trump's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, suggested Trump saw Trudeau as trying to weaken his hand before the summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, saying the president won't "let a Canadian prime minister push him around. ... Kim must not see American weakness." Trudeau pulled a "sophomoric political stunt for domestic consumption" that amounted to "a betrayal," said Kudlow, who appeared on CNN's State of the Union and CBS' Face the Nation.

In response to the initial tweets critical of her country and prime minister, Canada's foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said her nation "does not conduct its diplomacy through ad hominem attacks." Trump's revocation of support for a joint communique prompted strong reactions from the G7 leaders. "It's hard, it's depressing this time, but that's not the end (of the Group of Seven)," German chancellor Angela Merkel said in a rare one-on-one interview with ARD public television. I don't want us to keep inflating our language," she added, saying the word "depressed" was "already a lot, coming from me," in an ironic reference to her usual unflappable appearance. France warned that "fits of anger" could not dictate international cooperation. "International cooperation cannot be dictated by fits of anger and throwaway remarks," President Emmanuel Macron's office said in a statement to AFP, adding that reneging on the commitments agreed in the statement showed "incoherence and inconsistency."

What was in the communique?

The G7 leaders issued a joint pledge on Sunday to combat protectionism and cut trade barriers after two days of often fierce arguments between the US and both the summit hosts and Europe. The eight-page statement also included joint commitments to ensure that Iran will "never seek, develop or acquire a nuclear weapon" as well as demands for Russia to stop undermining Western democracies.

"We urge Russia to cease its destabilising behavior, to undermine democratic systems and its support of the Syrian regime. We condemn the attack using a military grade nerve agent in Salisbury, United Kingdom. We share and agree with the United Kingdom’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation was responsible for the attack, and that there is no plausible alternative explanation," they said in the joint statement. Responding to the criticism, Russian president Vladimir Putin dismissed it as "creative babbling" and said it was time to start cooperating again. "I believe it's necessary to stop this creative babbling and shift to concrete issues related to real cooperation," Putin told reporters on a visit to China. He also said the G7 countries had "again" failed to provide any evidence that Russia was behind the poisoning of a former double agent and his daughter in Britain in March.

There was also an agreement to disagree on climate change in the wake of Trump's decision to leave the Paris climate accord in 2017 which further underlined the divide between the Group of Seven's powerhouse and its six co-members. During the summit, Trump was accused of seeking to undermine the "rules-based" international order but the final statement began by stressing "the crucial role of a rules-based international trading system" as well as a commitment to "continue to fight protectionism." But in an apparent nod to Trump, the G7 also pledged to push for swift reforms to the World Trade Organisation which the US president has said has been a "disaster" for his country. "We commit to modernise the WTO to make it more fair as soon as possible. We strive to reduce tariff barriers, non-tariff barriers and subsidies," it said.  

One picture says it all

Merkel shared a photo on Saturday and captioned it: “Day two of the G7 summit in Canada: a spontaneous meeting between two working sessions.”

In the picture, Trump and Merkel are seen displaying less-than-friendly body language in what is turning out to be a defining image of the contentious meeting of the Group of Seven leaders of the world's advanced economies. The photograph created a buzz on the social media as it captured the tensions at the G7 summit.

Shortly afterward, the White House issued a separate photo showing a sitting Trump speaking as Merkel, Abe and Trudeau listen.

Another image of the same gathering, however, suggested a more relaxed interaction, with Merkel smiling and Trump making eye contact.

The G7 — an informal annual summit of democracies with highly developed economies — took place on Friday and Saturday in the Quebec resort town of Charlevoix in Canada, which holds the rotating leadership this year.

Saturday's picture was not the first awkward moment between Trump and Merkel, who makes no secret of her disagreement with the American leader's approach on trade, his rejection of the deal to limit Iran's nuclear programme and his decision to take the United States out of the global Paris deal to fight climate change.

Merkel's March 2017 visit to the White House was marked by Trump either not hearing or ignoring her offer to shake hands in the Oval Office. A visit in April 2018 warranted only a working lunch for the German leader, several days after fellow EU leader Macron got the full, formal state dinner treatment from Trump.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 19:56:52 IST

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