SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ, France — There were stark differences with climate change, North Korea, and tariffs among world leaders meeting here this weekend — and barely concealed strife between White House and French officials.
But to hear President Donald Trump tell it, the summit so far has been wonderful, the U.S. has been treated “beautifully,” and the leaders are “getting along very well.”
“The vibes were good,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters of a meeting Sunday morning on the economy. “There are always disagreements, you got high-powered leaders here, and there may be tactical disagreements. But every single one of those leaders agreed that something has got to be done about China’s unfair trading practices, every single one expressed support on that very key point.”
Trump has sought to emphasize the camaraderie and good relations among the leaders — and particularly sought to play up his relationship with Macron, saying their 90-minute lunch on Saturday was one of the best periods of time they’d spent together.
But tensions were still simmering, both publicly and under the surface. The White House was blindsided by the arrival of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday afternoon in the coastal town where the meeting is taking place, according to three U.S. officials.
It’s unclear how much notice Trump had of Zarif’s arrival. U.S. officials said some in the administration were furious at the French government’s decision to invite Zarif to Biarritz without significant advance notice. But they could not characterize the president’s views.
U.S. officials were already irritated with the French, claiming they were being intentionally difficult towards the U.S. delegation on everything from logistics to security, said one White House aide. There were also disagreements about how much focus should be placed on trade as opposed to other issues like climate change, a concern Macron would like to emphasize.
Even in public, the disagreements between the leaders were apparent. During a photo session with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump insisted North Korea hadn’t broken any agreements in its flurry of recent missile launches, while Abe said the country was in violation of U.N. resolutions.
In a meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Trump said that none of the leaders had pressured him to back down on his trade war with China, and that they respected it. Moments later, Johnson said “we’re in favor of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down if we can.”
Johnson noted that for 200 years, the U.K. has benefitted from free trade, and that they “don’t like tariffs on the whole.” Trump quickly pointed out the tumultuous period the U.K. has had in recent years.
“How about the last three years?” Trump said to Johnson. “Don’t talk about the last three. Two hundred, I agree with you.”
Macron has wanted to make climate change a focus of the gathering, using the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest to highlight the consequences. During a lunch with Trump, Macron acknowledged the “divergences we have on climate” and said they would nonetheless cooperate on lowering carbon emissions.
Trump responded that he and Macron “actually have a lot in common.”
Before the annual meeting began, Macron said he was scrapping the traditional signing of a joint statement because he knew Trump wouldn’t be on board. At last year’s G-7 summit, Trump withdrew his endorsement of a joint statement on climate change at the end of the gathering.
That was only one of the tense moments at last year’s gathering, where Trump threatened to end trade with all of the member countries, showed up late for a breakfast, and bashed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a tweet as he jetted off to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Ahead of this year’s gathering, Trump revived his attacks on Europe, accusing the countries there of “killing us on trade,” during a campaign rally. He threatened a tariff on French wine and called the prime minister of Denmark “nasty” for rebuffing his proposal to buy Greenland.
But since arriving, Trump has sought to paint a picture of unity, and blamed the media for suggesting there would be tensions during this year’s gathering.
“We are having very good meetings,” Trump tweeted early Sunday. “The Leaders are getting along very well, and our Country, economically, is doing great – the talk of the world!”
With one more day of talks Monday, even Trump acknowledged things could change.
“I have to say ‘thus far,’ because we’re probably halfway through. But thus far, this has been really a great G-7,” Trump said. “I want to congratulate France and your president, because they have really done a great job.”