There’s always one – one person who puts a damper on everything. In the case of President Trump’s attempt to bring the G7 leaders to Washington, D.C. this summer for their next meeting instead of holding a virtual meeting, the holdout is Angela Merkel.
It’s understandable that people hesitate to jump into re-establishing life as we knew it before the coronavirus pandemic. But, in times of chaos and a global public health crisis, leaders must step up and present a united front. President Trump canceled the G7 in March as the pandemic spread. At that time he canceled the planned summit at Camp David, suggesting instead that the group’s meeting could still happen but they would do so virtually since countries, including the United States, were on lockdown.
Now that the coronavirus pandemic is subsiding, Trump has a new plan. He’s extended an invitation to the G7 leaders to come to the White House for an in-person summit, with perhaps a trip to Camp David, too. The idea is to show a united front that the world leaders have confidence that the world will get up and running again and life will go on. He announced the change in a tweet, natch.
Now that our Country is “Transitioning back to Greatness”, I am considering rescheduling the G-7, on the same or similar date, in Washington, D.C., at the legendary Camp David. The other members are also beginning their COMEBACK. It would be a great sign to all – normalization!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2020
Normalization is the goal. I don’t think anyone believes the world is getting back to normal any time soon but it has to start somewhere, sometime. The most powerful man on earth may as well be the leader of that process. An added bonus will be the optics from the meeting. It will be good for Trump’s re-election campaign and highlight the pettiness from his opponents, including Team Biden, just like Trump’s tweet on May 20 announcing the summit idea brought out the snark from the likes of Joe Lockhart. Trump will show leadership.
“The president thinks no greater example of reopening in this transition to greatness would be the G7, and G7 happening here,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Tuesday.
“We will protect world leaders who come here, just like we protect people in the White House,” McEnany added. “So we want to see it happen. We think it will happen. And, so far, foreign leaders are very much on board with the idea.”
Not so fast, says German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She isn’t ready to commit to traveling to Washington just yet. She wants to be more certain that the pandemic is waning.
“The federal chancellor thanks President Trump for his invitation to the G7 summit at the end of June in Washington. As of today, considering the overall pandemic situation, she cannot agree to her personal participation, to a journey to Washington,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told POLITICO Friday.
“She will of course continue to monitor the development of the pandemic.”
Trump and Merkle have butted heads over issues in the past and more recently, too. Whether it is trade policy, or defense spending, or NATO participation, tension is not unusual between the two. Disagreements on climate change and the Iranian nuclear deal have caused friction, too. A call this week between Trump and Merkle didn’t go particularly well.
In a call between Trump and Merkel this week, the two leaders had heated disagreements on topics including NATO, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, and relations with China, according to a senior U.S. official, who declined to be named. Seibert, the German spokesman, did not respond to a question about whether the conversation was heated.
The other G7 leaders are open to traveling to Washington.
In a readout of Trump’s call with Macron on Thursday, the White House said: “President Trump and President Macron discussed progress on defeating the coronavirus and reopening global economies. The two leaders agreed on the importance of convening the G7 in person in the near future. President Trump and President Macron also discussed critical global and bilateral issues.”
In a readout of a call between Johnson and Trump on Friday, 10 Downing Street said: “On the upcoming G7 Summit, the Prime Minister and President discussed the importance of leaders meeting in the US in person if possible.”
Macron has said he would be willing to attend the summit. France is easing most of its lockdown restrictions on June 2, and travel between EU countries is expected to resume on June 15. But a ban on nonessential travel from outside the EU remains in effect, and a decision on when to lift it is expected by mid-June.
Abe has expressed similar openness, though Japanese media have noted that under current guidelines, the prime minister and his entourage would be required to quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Tokyo. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has also voiced a willingness to travel to Washington, as has Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. European Council President Charles Michel has said that he, too, would be up for the trip — if health conditions permit it.
Merkel has also expressed opposition to traveling to the EU summit in Brussels on June 19. Perhaps one of the concerns is her age, as older people are at higher risk if they become infected with the coronavirus. Trump is the oldest of the seven leaders, with Merkle the next oldest, turning 66 in July. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, who is 65, would also be considered high risk. Boris Johnson, U.K. Prime Minister, is 55 years old and the only G7 leader known to have contracted COVID-19.