The Group of Seven world leaders, or rather Six excluding Trump, tried to tame the US president... and failed. Which means on Saturday the group will sign off on a significantly "pared-down" statement at the close of their meeting in Sicily - an indication of deep divisions on climate change, trade and various other issues between Trump and the rest of the developed world. Pushing hard to persuade Trump to back the landmark Paris climate accord deal, after hours of talks that were described by Angela Merkel as "controversial" the G-7 leaders failed to get Trump's endorsement.
The leaders did, however, issue a joint statement on fighting terrorism, admonishing internet service providers and social media companies to "substantially increase" their efforts to rein in extremist content. According to Italy's Prime Minister and host, Paolo Gentiloni, the group was also inching closer to finding common language on trade, a controversial for Trump who has repeatedly pushed for an "America first" agenda.
But on the issue of climate, there was no breakthrough.
"There is one open question, which is the U.S. position on the Paris climate accords," Gentiloni told reporters according to Reuters, referring to a 2015 deal on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"All others have confirmed their total agreement on the accord." U.S. officials had signaled beforehand that Trump, who dismissed climate change as a "hoax" during his campaign, would not take a decision on the climate deal in Taormina, the cliff-top town overlooking the Mediterranean where G7 leaders met.
Other leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and new French President Emmanuel Macron, had hoped to sway the president at his first major international summit.
They failed, despite what Merkel described as a "controversial" climate debate and added that there was a "very intensive" exchange of views. One can only imagine.
Speaking separately, Trump's economic adviser Gary Cohn said Trump's views on climate were "evolving" and that he would ultimately do what was best for the United States.
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The tense summit, held at a luxury hotel that was once a Dominican monastery and base for the Nazi air force during World War Two, took place one day after Trump blasted NATO allies for spending too little on defense and described Germany's trade surplus as "very bad" in a meeting with EU officials. As noted yesterday, Trump's NATO speech shocked allies, who had been expecting him to reaffirm Washington's commitment to Article 5, the part of the military alliance's founding treaty which describes an attack on one member as an attack on all.
Italy chose to stage the summit in Sicily to draw attention to Africa, which is 140 miles (225 km) from the island at its closest point across the Mediterranean. More than half a million migrants, most from sub-Saharan Africa, have reached Italy by boat since 2014, taking advantage of the chaos in Libya to launch their perilous crossings.
In addition to trade and climate, drafts of the communique as of Friday were due to address topics such as migration and gender equality. The “ongoing large-scale movement” of migrants and refugees calls for “coordinated efforts,” according to a draft of the communique seen by Bloomberg News.
“We reaffirm the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels, as key elements of their national security and economic well-being,” according to the draft.
The nations are also set to say gender equality is fundamental for human rights. The leaders also issued a separate statement on counter-terrorism efforts that called on social media companies to do more in the fight against terrorism.
As the leaders attended a concert and gala dinner on Friday night, their aides worked to finalize the draft wording. "On the major theme of global trade, we are still working on the shape of the final communique, but it seems to me the direct discussions today have produced common positions that we can work on," said Gentiloni.
The final G7 communique traditionally outlines the common positions of the member states' leaders on the economy and other global issues requiring joint action by the world’s leading powers. This year’s statement is on pace to be less than 10 pages, or less than a third the 32-page memo signed last year in Japan, according to Bloomberg.
“You can test this stuff empirically. A shorter communique tends to mean the less they actually produce by way of commitments,” John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto’s G7 Research Group, told Bloomberg. He downplayed the relative scale of divisions:
“I don’t think it’s more divided than it’s ever been before,” he said, citing the 1982 summit as a failure where the issue of a Soviet gas pipeline, opposed by Ronald Reagan, divided the countries. “So they patched over some communique, but then they all ran off to their post-summit briefings and said ’we don’t agree with it, we don’t agree with it.’ So it made things worse. They kind of publicized their failure.”
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There was one thing the group could agree on: a crackdown on the "internet abuse."
“We will combat the misuse of the Internet by terrorists,” the statement said. The G-7 “calls for communication service providers and social media companies to substantially increase their efforts to address terrorist content.”