G20 summit opens with Donald Trump adopting softer tone
Donald Trump said he had “a lot of time” to deal with Iran at the start of the G20 summit in Osaka on Friday, as the meeting of the world’s largest economies began under the shadow of Washington’s rising tensions with Tehran and the unresolved US-China trade war.
“We have a lot of time. There’s no rush, they can take their time,” the US president said, even as he warned that there would be consequences if there was no resolution to the escalating crisis in the Gulf. “There is absolutely no time pressure. Hopefully in the end it’s going to work out. If it does, great, if it doesn’t, you‘ll be hearing about it.”
Donald Tusk, the European Council president, noted the EU’s “serious concern” about the tensions and said he would be telling all sides to show “maximum restraint”. He “strongly urged” Iran to continue to uphold the nuclear agreement, warning the EU would “take seriously” any breach of its commitments.
Mr Trump is expected to discuss the Iran crisis in bilateral meetings with the leaders of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Russia and others attending the two-day summit.
The president’s comments came a day after he lashed out at several US allies, including the EU, Japan and India. But Mr Trump struck a softer tone when speaking alongside some of those leaders on Friday.
Standing alongside German chancellor Angela Merkel, a frequent target of his attacks, he said she was a “great friend of mine”, adding: “She’s a fantastic person, a fantastic woman, and I’m glad to have her as a friend.”
Mr Trump had also slammed India for raising tariffs on US products while travelling to Osaka, tweeting that the move was “unacceptable”. Speaking alongside Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on Friday, however, the president said: “I think we will just continue to get along with India.”
Mr Trump is scheduled to meet Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, later on Friday. In an interview with the Financial Times before he departed for Osaka, Mr Putin praised the Mr Trump as a populist leader, saying that he understood his voters and declaring the liberalism had become “obsolete”.
Mr Tusk shot back at the Russian president. “Whoever claims liberal democracy is obsolete also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete,” he said. “For us in Europe, these are and will remain essential and vibrant rights. What I find really obsolete is authoritarianism, personality cults and the rule of oligarchs.”
While the G20 leaders will hold numerous bilateral meetings, the focus remains squarely on the face-to-face meeting between Mr Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping on Saturday.
The two leaders will try to make progress towards an agreement aimed at ending the trade war between the economic powers after talks collapsed last month.
Speaking before a session on trade, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, said discontent about the changes brought in by globalisation had sparked “sharp confrontation between states”.
But he said it was important that any trade measures adopted by countries should be consistent with World Trade Organization rules.
“I harbour great concern about the current situation on global trade,” Mr Abe said. “The world is watching the direction at which we the G20 leaders are [proceeding]. Now is the time we communicate a strong message for the maintenance and strengthening of a free, fair and non-discriminatory trading system.”
Climate change looks set to emerge as one of the biggest flash points of the summit, with Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, pointedly refusing to sign any joint statement that excludes the issue at the behest of the US.
Mr Macron said climate change would be a “red line” for him. “If we do not talk about the Paris accord and if, in order to reach agreement among the 20 in the room, we are not able to defend climate ambitions, it will be without France,” he said.
France is seeking language that would be at least as strong as the G20 statement from its Buenos Aires summit last year.
That compromise allowed signatories to the Paris climate agreement signed in 2016 to reaffirm that it was “irreversible” and commit to its implementation, while noting the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the accord.
Reflecting the struggle to reach any kind of consensus at the G20, Ángel Gurría, the OECD secretary-general, said that it was more important for the US and China to lay the groundwork for future negotiations to end their trade war.
“It’s not about the communique,” Mr Gurría said. “The fact of the matter is trade tensions exist . . . we all know they are there. We are all betting and rooting for Mr Xi and Mr Trump to find common ground.”