SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ, FRANCE - Story updated on Aug. 26 at 12:48 am.
G-7 leaders are closing their summit Monday with discussions about the climate and digital transformation, though those issues are likely to be overshadowed by a closing joint press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Trump insists discussions are going well at the summit in Biarritz, France, despite apparent differences with leaders on issues including the trade war with China, how to handle Iran, the threat posed by North Korea and bringing Russia back into the grouping of the world's major industrialized countries.
Sunday morning Trump appeared to be softening his stance on his trade war with China.
“I have second thoughts about everything," when asked about the issue.
Hours later his press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the president’s statement has been “greatly misinterpreted”. She added, “President Trump responded in the affirmative - because he regrets not raising" tariffs on Chinese goods "higher."
The statement appears to be the White House’s attempt to control the message. Trump often emphasizes that he is the only American leader that can “take on China”, and is betting that his aggressive stance will help him win support from his base as he vies for reelection in 2020.
G-7 leaders here have expressed concern about the escalation, with summit host French President Emmanuel Macron saying he hopes for leaders to pull back from an all-out war.
“I want to convince all our partners that tensions, and trade tensions in particular are bad for everybody,” he said in a speech.
Speaking alongside Trump during their working breakfast meeting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson publicly refuted Trump’s statement that other leaders have not pressured him to give up the trade war with China, believed to be causing uncertainty in the global economy and volatility in stock markets.
“Just to register the faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war, we're in favor of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down if we can,” Johnson said.
Johnson is seen as a natural ally to Trump due to similarities in their populist policies and Brexit.
Disagreement on Iran
At the summit, Macron introduced a plan to defuse rising tensions in the Gulf by partially lifting the U.S. oil embargo on Iran in exchange for Tehran’s returning to full compliance to the 2015 deal that restricts its nuclear program.
He told LCI television that members had agreed on a joint action on Iran.
When asked whether he supports Macron to deliver the message to Tehran on behalf of G-7 countries, Trump said, “No, I haven't discussed that”.
Trump continues to resist pressure from G-7 counterparts to rejoin the nuclear pact with Iran, a deal that’s considered a signature achievement of the Obama administration. He abandoned the deal last year and slapped crippling sanctions on Tehran.
Sunday afternoon, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Biarritz, the venue of the G-7 summit. A senior French official said that Macron invited him in an effort to ease tensions.
Trump declined to comment on Zarif’s arrival.
Bringing Russia back
Trump said that bringing Russia back into the G-7 is “a work in progress”.
“We have a number of people that would like to see Russia back,” he said, but would not mention who they were.
“No decision was made,” Trump said.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin underscored the importance to include Russia. "There are areas of the world that we have shared interests that are important," he said.
In 2014, G-8 members suspended Russian membership over the annexation of Crimea, a territory part of Ukraine which Moscow still now occupies.
Earlier this week Germany and Britain also rejected the idea of inviting Russia back into the group.
On Saturday, Donald Tusk who as president of the European Council represents the European Union’s 28 member states said there are more reasons now for Moscow’s exclusion, including “Russian provocation on the Azov Sea”, an apparent reference to the detention of Ukrainian sailors last year.
The EU and the United States have imposed sanctions on Russia over its role in the Ukraine conflict
During a bilateral meeting with Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Abe strongly condemned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent missile tests.
“Our position is very clear,” Abe said through a translator. “The launch of short range ballistic missiles by North Korea clearly violates U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
The South Korean military first reported on the two projectiles, suspected to be short-range ballistic missiles that North Korea launched on Saturday into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea. The launch is the seventh carried out since North Korea ended a 17-month hiatus on testing at the end of July.
Trump sought to downplay the North Korean nuclear threat.
“I can understand how the Prime Minister of Japan feels,” Trump said. “It’s different. But, I mean, I can understand that fully.”
Trump said he is “not happy” about the tests but did not consider it a violation. He said that the North Korean leader is not the only one testing those missiles.
“We’re in the world of missiles, whether you like it or not,” said Trump.