President Donald Trump’s announcement Saturday that he is postponing an in-person summit of the G7 ends, for now, what had been a hurried effort to arrange a major gathering of world leaders while also assuaging those leaders’ fears it was safe to assemble during the coronavirus pandemic.
Late last week convening an in-person G7 economic summit on US soil likely will be impossible by the end of June, particularly with the addition of several other countries Trump said Saturday he wants to include in the meeting, people familiar with the matter told CNN.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement that she “cannot confirm” she would participate due to concerns over coronavirus helped cement the decision, those people said.
Speaking aboard Air Force One, Trump framed the decision to delay the meeting until September as a way to rethink the traditional gathering of several of the world’s leading economies.
“I don’t feel that as a G7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world. It’s a very outdated group of countries,” he said. Later, aides indicated he was seeking a larger group that could act as a counterweight to China, whose relationship with the United States reached a nadir last week amid disputes over coronavirus and Hong Kong.
Still, concerns among leaders about traveling to the United States — which still has a ban in place on travel from Europe and has closed its border with Canada to non-essential travel — helped motivate the decision, people familiar with the matter said.
In a phone call with Trump on Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron argued that in order to convene in-person, the entire group needed to be present, one western official familiar with the matter said. Macron and Merkel have been tightly aligned at past G7 meetings in representing European interests.
Trump had also raised internally the notion of inviting other countries to participate in the summit, an idea that would prove more logistically challenging than just the six other G7 nations, the sources familiar with the matter said. He named Russia, South Korea, Australia and India as potential invitees to this year’s gathering.
“I think what the President is thinking is that this is a time when the entire world is trying to come out of Covid,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters at the White House on Sunday morning.
“The President’s thinking was, there are a couple of countries that have handled the Covid crisis incredibly well, and it would be useful to have them participate in the G7 so we can learn some lessons there,” he said. “Logistically to pull something like that off, I think it will take a little bit more time, so we’re probably looking at the September time frame.”
Trump had coordinated extensively with Macron as he worked to revive the in-person summit in June, but his announcement earlier in May that he wanted to bring leaders to Camp David in a month’s time caught fellow governments off guard, CNN has previously reported.