TAORMINA, ITALY - Leaders of the world’s rich nations braced for contentious talks with Donald Trump at a G-7 summit in Sicily Friday after the U.S. president lambasted NATO allies for not spending more on defense and accused Germany of “very bad” trade policies.
Trump’s confrontational remarks in Brussels, on the eve of the two-day summit in the Mediterranean resort town of Taormina, cast a pall over a meeting at which America’s partners had hoped to coax him into softening his stances on trade and climate change.
The summit will kick off with a ceremony at an ancient Greek theater perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, before the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States begin talks on terrorism, Syria, North Korea and the global economy.
Trump said Friday that North Korea was a “big problem,” but assured Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that issues surrounding the secretive Asian state would be resolved.
“It is very much on our minds. ... It’s a big problem, it’s a world problem and it will be solved. At some point it will be solved. You can bet on that,” Trump said sitting alongside Abe in a bilateral meeting ahead of a Group of Seven summit.
North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is seen as a major security challenge for Trump, who has vowed to prevent the country from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile, a capability experts say Pyongyang could have some time after 2020.
“We will have a very robust discussion on trade and we will be talking about what free and open means,” White House economic adviser Gary Cohn told reporters late Thursday.
He also predicted “fairly robust” talks on whether Trump should honor a U.S. commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Trump, who dismissed man-made global warming a hoax during his election campaign, is not expected to decide at the summit whether he will stick with the Paris deal, negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama.
Even if a decision is not forthcoming, European leaders have signaled that they will push Trump hard on the Paris emissions deal, which has comprehensive support across the continent.
The summit, being held near Europe’s most active volcano, Mount Etna, is the final leg of a nine-day tour for Trump, his first foreign trip since becoming president, that started in the Middle East.
On Thursday in Brussels, with NATO leaders standing alongside him, he accused members of the military alliance of owing “massive amounts of money” to the United States and NATO, even though allied contributions are voluntary.
According to German media reports, he also condemned Germany for “very bad” trade policies in meetings with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, signaling that he would take steps to limit the sales of German cars in the United States.
Juncker denied the reports Friday.
“He did not say that the Germans were behaving badly,” Juncker said in Sicily before the start of the G-7 summit. Juncker called the media reports exaggerated, saying it was “not true” that Trump had been aggressive towards Germany in the talks.
Trump will not be the only G7 newcomer. French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and British Prime Minister Theresa May will also be attending the elite club for the first time.