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How world leaders tried to bend Trump’s ear during his first trip abroad

May 26, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
President Trump spent the final day of his first trip abroad in Sicily at a G-7 Summit, where he met with several world leaders to discuss issues such as climate change and trade. It wrapped up a busy week with stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, the Vatican and the headquarters of the European Union and NATO. Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: President Trump spent the last full day of his first and lengthy overseas trip in Sicily today at a meeting of the so-called G7 countries.

It ended a week that took him from Saudi Arabia, to Israel and the West Bank, to the Vatican, and yesterday to the Brussels headquarters of the European Union and NATO.

I spoke a short time ago with Bloomberg News White House correspondent Margaret Talev in Taormina, Sicily, and asked her if President Trump tried to convey central messages to world leaders.

MARGARET TALEV, Bloomberg News: There sure were. I would say, in the Middle East, it was the idea that President Trump is uniquely qualified to restart the Mideast peace process by kind of shifting the focus a little bit away from that traditional Israeli-Palestinian dynamic to this broader idea of Israelis and Muslim and Arab nations having a lot in common in a desire to fight terrorism.

That’s one big message. In Europe, the message really was different. And it was sort of bringing President Trump’s campaign promises about kind of resetting expectations for NATO countries, paying what he would call their fair share, rebalancing trade and how Europe and the United States think about trade with one another, the idea of reciprocal trade agreements, if you make this tough for me, I will make this tough for you.

Those were a lot of those messages in Western Europe. And, so, I think what you saw pretty much follows. It was a very warm welcome in the Middle East, and a much sort of more skeptical, sometimes critical reception in at NATO and the G7.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Tell us about a little bit about those reactions from world leaders, at least on the European side.

MARGARET TALEV: Yes, I mean, the visit with the pope, of course, it was sort of how President Trump kicked off his arrival in Europe.

And we know, from the last year’s campaign, how many differences of opinion the two men have. And so both of their teams sort of made clear from the outset that this was an attempt for each to preserve a channel to talk with one another, but that they weren’t going to be necessarily on the same page about everything.

President Trump’s reaction, ebullient, joyous, great honor, love it, grinning ear to ear. Pope Francis’ demeanor, much more reserved, and a lot of sort of reading on the tea leaves and the body language on that front. We will see where that relationship goes.

But, from there, the move over to NATO, the Western allies in NATO had sort of boxed him in to try to force his commitment, for him to restate a commitment to NATO by having him attend this unveiling of an Article 5 memorial.

And President Trump was willing to be led to the water to a point, but to choose his wording carefully in terms of reaffirming his commitment to Article 5 without saying, and I’m in it forever no matter what, you know, whatever you need. That wasn’t the message. The message was very much, Article 5, we appreciate that it was invoked for the U.S. after 9/11, but for NATO to work long-term, there needs to be a stepping up of financial contributions.

That was — the NATO leaders have already agreed to that. There have been plans made three years ago. This was always on track to be stepped up. A lot of those leaders really bristled at the idea that President Trump was trying to say this was all because of him and some bad feelings there.

And then, as you moved over to the G7, two big issues rolling into the final day of the summit that have emerged as fairly predictable stumbling blocks again are climate change and trade.

Angela Merkel, the German leader, telling folks after day one’s session that all of the other leaders of the G7 were unanimous in pressing the president of the United States to stay with Paris and to get sort of with their program.

Gary Cohn, the president’s economic adviser, preserving the space for President Trump perhaps to stay in the Paris talks, to show that he’s listening to European leaders, but leaving a little bit of room to do that at his own pace and under his own terms, and saying, look, I want to get this right. I’m going to take my time, meaning not necessarily here.

And then on trade, again, we’re expecting months, if not longer, of kind of a shift in discussions about what the future of U.S. and European trade relations are going to look like.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And we also saw a very short communique out of the G7, usually a sign that there was very little that they all agreed on to put on paper.

MARGARET TALEV: Yes, that’s right.

I mean, you can say that that’s a good thing. You can say that it’s a bad thing. You’re not going to agree to more than you agree on. And this does, again, preserve some diplomatic space for moving closer together in the future, but it also reflects what sort of visit this was.

It was calibrated by the White House to show that, to a domestic audience, as well as to Europe, that President Trump is not going to abandon every position that he held from the campaign just because he is here in these meetings, but, at the same time, a recognition from his aides that the more he engages with key allies all over the world, the more nuance is brought to the table in terms of him understanding the leadership role that the U.S. is expected to fulfill and the complexities of those obligations.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Margaret Talev of Bloomberg joining us tonight from Italy, thanks so much.

MARGARET TALEV: Thanks, Hari.

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