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G-7 leaders push back against Trump at this year’s summit

After a contentious meeting with some of the world's wealthiest democracies last year, President Trump on Sunday made a volley of comments at the 2019 G-7 summit in France, on everything from the trade war with China to Brexit to North Korea's weapons tests. NewsHour White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, who is covering the G-7 meeting, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Good evening, and thanks for joining us. At the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, today, President Trump made a whirlwind of comments and announcements on everything from the trade war with China to Brexit to a new trade agreement with Japan to North Korea's latest missile launch. At a breakfast meeting with the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and aides, the president appeared to waiver about his recent decision to increase tariffs against China again.

  • Reporter:

    Mr. President, any second thoughts on escalating the trade war with China?

  • President Trump:

    Yep, sure, why not, might as well. Might as well.

    Reporter? You have second thoughts about escalating the trade war with China?

  • President Trump:

    I have second thoughts about everything.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Hours later the White House issued a statement saying the president's words were misinterpreted. NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor is covering the G-7 meeting, and she joins us now from the south of France. What's the misinterpretation? He said he had second thoughts.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The White House has really been trying its hardest to walk back the president saying that he had second thoughts when it came to the escalating trade war with China. But reporters asked the president three times: Are you having second thoughts? And he said very clearly, "I have second thoughts about everything." Now soon after, the White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, she put out a statement saying the president's having second thoughts because he wants to escalate the war, the trade war with China even more, so saying that instead of saying that he wants to dial it back he actually wants to dial it up. Also Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin came out and talked to reporters here in the south of France. He said that the room was very loud, and that the president might not have heard the question right. But again it goes back to the idea, the president repeated the question and said, "I have second thoughts on everything." So it's very rare for the president to express any sort of self-doubt. It's very rare for the president to ever say that he had second thoughts on something. But in this case he might have been having a moment where he wanted to have some self reflection. But the White House is quickly pivoting away from that.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. So something that happens at these meetings is sort of one-on-one conversations with these leaders. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and the president met. What is the result of that conversation?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The U.S. and Japan announced a pretty significant potential trade deal here in the south of France. The two leaders said that Japan is going to potentially buy billions of dollars of corn from the U.S. and that's really important because the escalating trade war with China has meant that a lot of U.S. farmers haven't had a market to sell their corn. I talked to a U.S. official who said that this trade deal is a big win for ranchers and for farmers across the country. A lot of those people are the base of President Trump and he wants to do something to really look like he's having a win for them. That said the prime minister of Japan was a lot less confident than President Trump. President Trump was talking as if the deal was already done. Shinzō Abe, the prime minister of Japan, though, said that it's a potential deal. They said that they want to try to set a goal of signing it next month at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. But still the deal is not all the way set.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But let's talk also about one of the parties that's missing from the table, that's Russia. The president wants Russia there, the allies do not.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president has been pushing to have Russia added back into the G-7, which used to be the G-8, but the president has been lying about why Russia was kicked out of what used to be the G-8 in the first place. President Trump is saying the reason why Russia was kicked out was because his predecessor President Obama was outsmarted by Vladimir Putin. That simply is not true. Russia was kicked out because they annexed Crimea, which was a sovereign part of the Ukraine, and as a result world leaders got together in line to punish Russia and as a result they kicked them out of the G-8 and it became the G-7. The president today said that adding Russia back into the G-7 is a work in progress. And he was pretty clear that there are a lot of world leaders here that do not agree with that stance. So it's still up in the air what will happen with Russia.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. This is also the first time that he met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. How'd that meeting go?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The meeting between Boris Johnson, the new prime minister of the U.K., and President Trump went pretty warmly. The president really praised Boris Johnson. He said he was the right man for the time when it comes to the UK and Brexit. But Boris Johnson in some ways contradicted the president a bit. He said that he really likes the idea of free trade and he said The U.K. has benefited from 200 years of free trade while the president has pushed back on that. Boris Johnson also said that he is not a fan of terror. So in some ways while Boris Johnson was smiling and it seemed as though it was a very warm meeting, there was some pushback going on there. And we've seen world leaders throughout this G-7 gently push back on the president while also keeping things positive.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We also had a surprise guest of sorts. Not at the table, but in the town.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The big surprise here was that Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif showed up unexpectedly at the G-7. It completely blindsided President Trump and U.S. officials here. We're told at the NewsHour that the president is still weighing whether or not he might meet with the Foreign Minister Zarif. But what we do know is that the president is feeling as though he's been blindsided and he feels as though this is the French really not doing its due diligence to tell him about what was going to be happening here. We're told that the president is going be advised by Secretary of State Pompeo that Zarif is too low down the totem pole to meet with the president. That said it's 100 percent going to be President Trump's decision if he meets with Zarif. Right now Zarif is only expected to meet with French officials here. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, said very early on in the G-7 that he was going to try to use this G-7 to ease tensions between Iran and the U.S. So that might be why Zarif made this surprise visit.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Overall, how is this G-7 compared to previous ones?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The big looming question of this G-7 was really: is President Trump gonna be unpredictable? Is he going to get into confrontations as he has during the last two G-7s? What we saw was a less confrontational G-7. Larry Kudlow, the president's top economic adviser, said that there are quote "good vibes" here. Also we've seen the president have more meetings with world leaders here. That said in meeting after meeting we've seen leaders really gently push back on the president. With Shinzō Abe, the prime minister of Japan, as I said there was the issue of the trade deal. Also the president said that he didn't think North Korea was violating any sort of agreement when it was testing its missiles where Shinzō Abe said that he sees a complete violation by North Korea because of those missile tests. So we see some pushback there. Boris Johnson again was really talking about free trade and embracing it while President Trump was not. That said there's not going to be a joint communique here. That's because the French President Emanuel Macron doesn't want to have a communique the U.S. doesn't want to sign so they've done away with it completely. So overall it's still been a pretty calm G-7, but there have been fundamental changes because of President Trump's unpredictable behavior.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. NewsHour's White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor joining us now from the south of France, thanks so much.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks, Hari.

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