Barely two months before the D-Day invasion of France, dozens of B-24 American bombers devastated the elegant but Nazi-occupied seaside resort of Biarritz, all but obliterating vast stretches of the town. This past weekend, the leaders of the nations that make up the G-7 — President Donald Trump, French President Emanuel Macron, Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime ministers of Japan, Italy and Canada — gathered at the same seaside village. Several days later, this group of leading industrial nations seems to have left their alliance in better shape than the Allied bombers left Biarritz 75 years ago despite, at times, the best efforts of Trump.
In the end, Trump was mostly unable to use the meeting to successfully push his agenda or play to the interests of his political base. Unlike last year’s meeting, the American president failed to derail the G-7, in large part because of Macron’s intense and adroit diplomatic efforts. At the same time, it’s not impossible that Trump may have recognized that he had somewhat overplayed his hand in past years, winning little for his efforts. As the incoming leader of the global body, he has more to gain by accommodation — of sorts — than open conflict.
That Trump was unable to utterly blow up the conference as he did after last year’s session in Charlevoix, Canada was likely due in large part to the united intent of this year’s host, Macron, and his five other guests. But with a succession of comments, innuendos and reversals, it was still hard to emerge from this weekend without at least a little bit of whiplash.
In public, it was certainly all friendship and bonhomie. And while Trump still sought from the beginning to bend this conference to his will, host Macron mostly prevailed. “The summit, which promised to be difficult amidst rivalries between leaders weakened or focused on their domestic policy issues, has so far been a success for the French president,” leading French daily Le Monde observed on Monday. Another center-right daily, Le Figaro, in an online poll showed 72 percent of respondents saw Macron’s efforts as a success.
As Air Force One was touching down at Bordeaux, Macron was already going on French television to set the tone and the agenda. He stressed the importance of working to mitigate climate change (and Trump’s reluctance to do so) while also finding some common ground with Iran and keeping Russia at bay. Macron then promptly ambushed Trump, waiting at the opulent Hôtel du Palais for him to arrive and shanghaiing the president into a 90-minute, unanticipated lunch.
On Iran, among the more contentious issues this weekend, Trump was said to have been surprised by the arrival of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday afternoon in Biarritz. This followed a long and reportedly contentious session over dinner on Saturday night that ended with leaders agreeing Iran should not be allowed to have nuclear weapons or destabilize the Middle East — effectively moving closer to the American position.
At a farewell news conference, Macron noted he had even managed to finesse “conditions for a meeting” between Trump and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, apparently without many of the conditions Americans have insisted on in the past two years.
Macron also worked hard behind the scenes to control the narrative surrounding Trump and British leader Boris Johnson. Macron held a pre-gathering get-together at the Elysée Palace in Paris with Johnson, a self-proclaimed U.S. ally who no doubt appreciates Trump’s support for Johnson’s strong pro-Brexit plan. Macron warned that Johnson could become little more than a “vassal” if he became “a junior partner of the United States".
Indeed, despite their burgeoning friendship, Johnson told reporters he was not all on board with America’s ongoing trade war with China. “Just to register a faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war — we are in favor of trade peace on the whole," Johnson said.
And speaking of trade, Trump claimed that high-level talks will be resuming with China. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he had heard of no new contacts, however.
At least one concrete agreement was hammered out outside the framework of the full G-7. On Sunday afternoon, the press pool was summoned into a meeting room with Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe where both announced a joint trade deal. Later, however, it emerged that the entire agreement was still a barebones framework. This makes some sense given that past trade pacts with Japan have often dragged on well past initial announcements. Work on the Japan-EU trade agreement which came into force last February was first begun in 2013.
(Still, amidst what appeared to be moves toward a cordial détente on trade, the two appeared to be barely on the same page regarding North Korea. Trump observed he was “not happy” with recent North Korean missile tests, prompting a sharp response from Abe who emphasized North Korea’s threat to Japan.)
At Saturday’s dinner, Trump provoked what he described as a “lively discussion,” when he sought Russia’s re-entry to the group. Let's be clear: Russia will likely not be re-admitted. As host of next year’s G-7, Trumpcould invite Putin to attend as an observer. But since the gathering will be taking place in the final weeks of his re-election campaign, it’s hard to see how pushing for Putin would help him.
The most critical question to emerge from this G-7 was just how much permanent damage has been done to the world order. Indeed, as Trump prepares to step into the critical role of G-7 president, can the United States be truly counted on?
But Emmanuel Macron, for one, appeared confident that all was not lost. Sunday afternoon, television cameras caught Boris Johnson congratulating the French leader on his deft handling of Trump and the Saturday night dinner. “You did very well last night. My God, that was a difficult one,” Johnson said. In fact, Macron — leader of the G-7 until the end of December — may just be getting started.
- David A. Andelman is executive director of The RedLines Project. Andelman was formerly a correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Europe and Asia. He is the author of three books, most recently "A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today" and translator of “An Impossible Dream: Reagan, Gorbachev and a World Without the Bomb,” to appear in July. His writings may also be found at Patreon.
This piece was first published by NBC Think.
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