President Trump will play the role of a dutiful diplomat at a global economic summit this weekend, his schedule jammed with one-on-one meetings with allies including Germany, India, Japan and South Korea as well as the authoritarian leaders of Russia, China and Turkey.
If past is prologue, he does not look forward to the task.
The president generally dislikes group chatfests such as the annual Group of 20 economic meeting that begins Friday. His mood in the weeks leading up to the gathering in Argentina was not helped by Republican losses in the midterms, potential signs of trouble in the U.S. economy and the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
The session also comes amid brewing trade spats, a volatile confrontation between Russia and U.S. ally Ukraine, the fallout from the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi and fast-moving events surrounding Britain’s divorce from the European Union.
Trump aides wanted to avoid a repeat of the smaller Group of Seven in June, which Trump pushed wildly off the rails. He lectured longtime allies on trade, issued threats and pulled his name from a painstakingly negotiated joint statement.
This time, White House officials reached out to key allies and downplayed expectations that Trump would hold bilateral meetings with major European and Asian counterparts, according to diplomats with knowledge of the interactions.
Until Tuesday, Trump’s only announced meetings were with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We were steered toward not asking for a bilateral, with the rationale being that he hates multilateral meetings, so do yourself a favor or it will be the G-7 all over again,” said one diplomat familiar with pre-summit planning.
As a result, officials from Canada, France, South Korea and Britain expected that no formal bilateral meeting with their leaders and Trump would materialize in Buenos Aires.
So it was a surprise this week when White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and national security adviser John Bolton detailed Trump’s busy agenda, which includes the first joint meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“We’re trying to fill every minute of the president’s schedule,” Bolton told reporters Tuesday.
Trump will see eight leaders, including a customary meeting with this year’s host, Argentine President Mauricio Macri. He’ll see others briefly in the course of two days of economic sessions, lunches, dinners and a “cultural event.”
As key allies continued to press for a meeting with the president, the White House switched course and opened the door to more bilaterals, including meetings with Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
On paper, the unconventional U.S. leader — who blew up both the G-7 and a NATO meeting this year while appearing to sulk on his most recent international trip to Paris — is suddenly doing the kind of diplomatic box-checking that his recent predecessors have done at such summits.
True, Trump is skipping private time with the leaders of France, Britain and Canada, all of whom he has recently antagonized. And his 45-minute session with Merkel, which came together hastily this week, is likely to include testy discussions about looming auto tariffs and Germany’s purchase of Russian natural gas.
SOURCE; The Washington Post