President Donald Trump reiterated his call to invite Russia into a revived Group of 8 world leaders, stoking an already-fraught relationship between the U.S. and its allies at a summit in Canada.
“I would rather see Russia in the G-8 as opposed to the G-7,” Trump said Saturday at a news conference on the sidelines of a Group of 7 summit in Charlevoix, Canada. “I would say the G-8 is a more meaningful group than the G-7, absolutely.”
Trump first floated the idea of a Russia return before he headed to Canada Friday for the meeting, throwing a further wrench into a group that’s grappling with his move to impose tariffs on allies’ steel and aluminum exports. While he won a quick endorsement from Italy, other nations, including Germany and the United Kingdom, warned that Russia would have to change its behavior should the G-8 be revived.
Trump also criticized his predecessor Barack Obama, saying he allowed Russia to annex Crimea in 2014. That action prompted the G-8 to expel Russia, taking the grouping to the G-7.
“Obama can say all he wants but he allowed Russia to take Crimea,” Trump said. “I may have had a much different attitude.”
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said nations should “engage but beware” when it comes to Russia. “Let’s remember why the G-8 became the G-7,” May said on Sky News. “And before discussions could begin on any of this, we would have to ensure Russia is amending its ways and taking a different route.”
Trump has also caused concern among his party and within his administration in seeking to repair U.S. relations with the Kremlin. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., castigated Trump for his remarks on Vladimir Putin and for his animosity toward U.S. allies and trading partners. And Defense Secretary James Mattis warned about Russia while attending at a NATO meeting in Brussels.
The White House confirmed Thursday that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has offered to host a summit between Trump and Putin in Vienna. Trump hasn’t said whether he is considering the proposal.
Trump has periodically expressed skepticism about the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election that he won, and he has forcefully rejected assertions that Russia was responsible for his victory. He and Putin occasionally speak by phone –– the Russian president has hinted that the calls happen more often than the White House has publicly acknowledged –– and they have met twice overseas since Trump was inaugurated.
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