President Donald Trump charged into a summit of major industrialized nations on Friday for contentious trade talks, injecting fresh drama into an already tense meeting by calling for the reinstatement of Russia, which was ousted for its annexation of Crimea.
Trump made the comment at the White House Friday after hours of further escalating his rhetoric against longtime allies over U.S. trade practices.
"Why are we having a meeting without Russia in the meeting?" Trump asked. "They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table."
Solidifying his solo status on the world stage, Trump also lashed out at longtime allies over their criticism of his trade policies. He planned an early exit from the G7 meeting.
Russia was ousted from the elite group in 2014 as punishment for President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. In the U.S., special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia in a bid to sway the 2016 presidential election in his favour.
Trump saluted Canadian Mounties as he was greeted at an airport at a military base in Quebec. He arrived Friday at the annual gathering, held this year at a picturesque Quebec resort, but will leave early on Saturday morning before the event is over, heading to Singapore for his highly anticipated summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The White House announced his travel plans after French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signaled they would use the G7 event to take a stance against new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
At a joint press conference on Thursday, Macron said: "A trade war doesn't spare anyone. It will start first of all to hurt U.S. workers."
Trudeau, for his part, said Trump's action would hurt American workers as well as Canadians, adding he hoped to get Trump to realize it was "counterproductive."
As tempers frayed, Trump had a ready retort, via tweet: "Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the U.S. massive tariffs and create non-monetary barriers. The EU trade surplus with the U.S. is $151 Billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out. Look forward to seeing them tomorrow."
Later Thursday, Trump tweeted: "Prime Minister Trudeau is being so indignant, bringing up the relationship that the U.S. and Canada had over the many years and all sorts of other things...but he doesn't bring up the fact that they charge us up to 300% on dairy — hurting our Farmers, killing our Agriculture!"
A few hours later, he added, "Take down your tariffs & barriers or we will more than match you!"
The president appeared in no hurry to leave for Canada. He walked out of the White House more than half an hour late, spent time greeting supporters gathered on the South Lawn, and then proceeded to take questions from reporters for nearly 20 minutes. He weighed in on everything from the Russia investigating to protesting NFL players and his next pardons.
With a cool reception all but assured, Trump has complained to aides about even having to attend the G7. Trump is set to hold a series of group and one-on-one meetings, including with Trudeau and Macron.
Under Trump, the United States has abandoned its traditional role in the G7. His predecessors pressed for freer global trade and championed a trading system that required countries to follow World Trade Organization rules. Trump's policies have been more protectionist and confrontational, driven by a perception that the U.S. has been the victim of poorly conceived trade deals.
"The rules-based international order is being challenged, not by the usual suspects, but by its main architect and guarantor: the United States," European Council President Donald Tusk said.
Relations have hit such a low that a key question now is whether the seven countries can agree on a joint statement of priorities at the conclusion of the meeting. A gathering of G7 finance ministers days earlier concluded last week with a message of "concern and disappointment" about Trump from the other six countries. France's finance minister described the group as "far more a G6 plus one than a G7."
Macron said Thursday on Twitter, "The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be."
In Paris, Macron's office said allowing Russia back into the group wouldn't make sense and pointed out that the latest country to impose economic sanctions on Russia was the U.S.
Tension has been building over a year of policymaking that has distanced the U.S. from traditional allies, including Trump's decisions to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and the international Iran nuclear agreement. His new tariffs — 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union — threaten to drive up prices for American consumers and companies and heighten uncertainty for businesses and investors around the globe.
Canada and other U.S. allies are retaliating with tariffs on U.S. exports. Canada is waiting until the end of the month to apply them with the hope the Trump administration will reconsider.
Meanwhile, talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement that eliminated most tariffs and duties between the U.S., Canada and Mexico appear to have ground to a halt.
Critics argue that the growing U.S. isolation is risky at a time when Trump is making diplomatic overtures with North Korea and in the Middle East and could use the support of allies.
Sebastian Mallaby, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, described the relationships between the U.S. and the rest of the G7 as at a "new level of crisis," saying that it was not just about trade but "a general U.S. attitude toward the system."
Despite the conflict, Mallaby predicted that the countries would still seek to work with the U.S., calling it "the indispensable country."
Likewise, Macron described the moment as a period of "great challenges," but also defended his efforts to befriend the American president, saying the U.S. is a historical ally and "we need them."