By Patrick Wintour in Taormina,
Trump at G7: president`s last world tour stop brings uncertainty and risk
Trump`s colleagues are likely to want to change his instincts on climate change and refugees, among other issues, but few can predict how he might react
For a president who prizes personal chemistry, a day and a half cloistered with the leaders of the six major capitalist economies in the medieval Sicilian coastal town of Taormina might seem attractive - even if it marks a come-down from Mar-a-Lago.
But no one knows if Donald Trump, reaching the end of an exhausting week-long tour, will take to world summitry. Multilateral fora would not seem his natural habitat: he is hardly likely to be interested in the dense final communiques these meetings tend to produce - and which remain largely unread by anyone but the functionaries who toiled over every ambiguous sub-paragraph.
President Trump`s first international tour
There are few specific deals to be made, just frank views to be exchanged and understandings reached. The format is deliberately informal, if not unstructured. And the absence of Russia and China may make Trump question the G7`s continued relevance.
Moreover, the prospect of Trump being totally alone with his six interlocutors will certainly cause palpitations amongst the officials listening to the discussion on headphones in an adjoining room.
Few can predict the course of his conversation, the span of his concentration or what state secrets he might divulge.
The risk is that - on a range of agenda items - Trump finds himself in the G1. His six colleagues, with varying degrees of emphasis, are likely to want to change his instincts on climate change, protectionism, the treatment of refugees and novel ideas like a web tax on the giant technology companies. Japan will be seeking a tougher strategy on North Korea`s nuclear ambitions.
According to diplomats, the leaders have been exchanging views on how best to engage Trump, or locate the true figures of influence in the White House.
One diplomat said: "We need to show a degree of humility. In foreign policy terms, the second half of Trump`s 100 days were immeasurably better than the first half, recognisably Republican. The trick is to make sure he does not feel cornered, and if you have an idea, make him feel it is his idea, and in America`s interest. At the same time, we need to get some commitments from him."
The team around Emmanuel Macron - one of four leaders attending his first G7 - say they will be pressing Trump hard on the argument that the US cannot afford to backtrack on the agreements Barack Obama struck at the UN Paris climate change conference summit. In some ways, it is a replay of the arguments the G7 staged with George W Bush at the start of the decade.
Some western powers are trying to frame the climate change discussion as a national security argument, pointing to the risk of war and terrorism if mass migration explodes out of drought-ridden Africa.
Trump`s aides insist he remains in listening mode on climate change, and no decision will be made for a few weeks. The British, eternal optimists, at least sense he is moving on the issue. Results may have to wait for the G20 summit, to be attended by China in Hamburg in June.
It may be a tougher ask to get Trump to sign up to words extolling the virtues of free trade - standard fare in G7 communiques since its inception in 1975, but anathema to Trump`s protectionist tax-cutting instincts. Time has been set aside for a lengthy debate on Friday evening. Angela Merkel - facing elections this year - cannot be seen to cave to a man who is political kryptonite among her voters.
Equally, Italy`s prime minister, Paulo Gentiloni, supported by Merkel, will want to broaden Trump`s perception of fighting terrorism, an issue made more urgent by the Manchester atrocity. Gentiloni wants the US to look at the way in which climate, migration and security are increasingly intertwined.
The seven leaders will be looking out at the Mediterranean - a sea which this year alone has seen over 1,300 migrants drown as they attempt to reach Europe from Libya. About 50,000 have reached Italy, a figure large enough to suggest more than 200,000 migrants will arrive in the country this year. Italy feels strongly that it has been left alone to handle a crisis in which the accidents of geography have handed it an excessive burden.
But Italy is also eager to discuss the root causes of African migration. So the discussion will go wider than Libya`s political stability, coastal patrols, or even closing migration routes to address how to foster economic innovation in Africa.
The vast cuts announced by the White House this week in the US foreign aid budget run counter to this, and an Italian plan for an African food security fund at the summit has been scaled back. Trump will meet five African leaders from Tunisia, Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya.
The presence of Japan`s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will also ensure North Korea`s nuclear ambitions get high billing. If North Korea is only two years away from gaining an intercontinental weapon, as many experienced diplomats believe, this becomes an issue that Trump and most of the other G7 leaders know they will have to address on their watch. The speed of Pyongyang`s progress with missile technology is alarming all sides.
At issue is whether the G7 should seek to engage or instead persuade China to bring the regime of Kim Jong Un to its knees by cutting off oil supplies, risking a dangerous chaos, and mass refugee flows.
Experienced Korean diplomats privately say the chances of the current standoff ending peacefully are limited, as low as 10%, and predict North Korea will have intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking Washington within two years. Despairing diplomats hope that Trump`s unpredictability may prove to be an asset in the crisis since his personality will make an anxious North Korea unable to forecast his next move.
That same anxiety, of course, is shared in a different way by the other members of the G7, and the intrigue in the two days ahead may lie in the extent to which Trump manages to reassure or instead deepen concern about the "leader of the free world".
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