WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants Russia back at the Group of Seven summits of the world's leading economies, even though it still controls Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
Moscow was booted from the group over its unilateral 2014 annexation of the peninsula.
As the G-7 leaders head to the French Atlantic seaside town of Biarritz for their annual meeting this weekend, Trump said it would make sense for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be part of the group again.
Trump seemed unconcerned that Russia considers Crimea part of its territory, instead blaming former U.S. President Barack Obama for Russia's takeover of Crimea.
"They took over during [Obama's] term, not mine," Trump said. "The fact is President Putin totally outsmarted President Obama on Crimea and other things. He made a living on outsmarting President Obama and frankly because of it, Obama was upset and he got [Putin] out of what was the G-8 into the G-7."
"We spend a lot of time talking about Russia at those meetings and they're not there," Trump told reporters Wednesday as he fielded questions on the White House driveway. "I think it would be a good thing if Russia were there, so we could speak directly, not have to speak by telephone."
Trump added, "We're looking for world peace, trade and other things. It would be a lot easier to have Russia in where they had always been."
A day earlier, Trump said that if another country at this week's summit moved to readmit Russia, "I would certainly be disposed to think about it very favorably."
The G-7 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., described by the International Monetary Fund as the world's seven largest advanced economies, representing 58% of the global net wealth. China is the world's second-biggest economy, after the U.S., but is not part of the G-7. Russia has the world's 12th largest economy.
It was not immediately clear whether any of the other countries support Russia rejoining the G-7 to again make it the G-8.
The White House says Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron agree that Russia should be invited to the 2020 G-7 meeting, when Trump is hosting it in the United States.
However, Macron took a firmer stance Wednesday against simply letting Russia rejoin the G-7 without resolving the Ukraine conflict, where, aside from the Crimean annexation, Russian-supported insurgents have fought Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine for years, killing thousands.
"I think to say that without any conditions Russia can return to the table would be signing off the weakness of the G-7," Macron said. "It would be a strategic error for us and the consecration of this age of impunity."
Macron said that while it is important to discuss international affairs with Russia, the Ukraine crisis must be resolved before Russia can return to the G-7.