Leaders of the world’s rich nations braced for contentious talks with Donald Trump at a G7 summit in Sicily on Friday after the U.S. president lambasted NATO allies for not spending more on defense and accused Germany of “very bad” trade policies.
Trump’s confrontational remarks in Brussels, on the eve of the two-day summit in the Mediterranean resort town of Taormina, cast a pall over a meeting at which America’s partners had hoped to coax him into softening his stances on trade and climate change.
The summit will kick off with a ceremony at an ancient Greek theater perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, before the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. begin talks on terrorism, Syria, North Korea and the global economy.
“We will have a very robust discussion on trade and we will be talking about what free and open means,” White House economic adviser Gary Cohn told reporters late Thursday.
He also predicted “fairly robust” talks on whether Trump should honor a U.S. commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Trump, who dismissed man-made global warming a “hoax” during his election campaign, is not expected to decide at the summit whether he will stick with the Paris deal, negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama.
Even if a decision is not forthcoming, European leaders have signaled that they will push Trump hard on the Paris emissions deal, which has comprehensive support across the continent.
“This is the first real opportunity that the international community has to force the American administration to begin to show its hand, particularly on environment policy,” said Tristen Naylor, a lecturer on development at the University of Oxford and deputy director of the G20 Research Group.
The summit, being held near Europe’s most active volcano, Mount Etna, is the final leg of a nine-day tour for Trump, his first foreign trip since becoming president, that started in the Middle East.
On Thursday in Brussels, with NATO leaders standing alongside him, he accused members of the military alliance of owing “massive amounts of money” to the U.S. and NATO, even though allied contributions are voluntary.
According to German media reports, he also condemned Germany for “very bad” trade policies in meetings with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, signaling that he would take steps to limit the sales of German cars in the U.S. EU officials declined to confirm the reports.
Trump will not be the only G7 newcomer. French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and British Prime Minister Theresa May will also be attending the elite club for the first time.
May is expected to leave a day early, following Monday’s suicide bombing at a concert in northern England that killed 22 people and was allegedly carried out by a young Islamist militant of Libyan descent who grew up in Britain.
Italy chose to stage the summit in Sicily to draw attention to Africa, which is 225 km from the island at its closest point across the Mediterranean.
No fewer 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.
Italy is eager for wealthy nations to do much more to help develop Africa’s economy and make it more appealing for youngsters to stay in their home countries.
The leaders of Tunisia, Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria and Kenya will join the discussions on Saturday to say what should be done to encourage investment and innovation on their continent.
One country that won’t be present is Russia. It was expelled from the group in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Trump called for improved ties with Moscow during his election campaign.
Accusations from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the U.S. election to help Trump, and investigations into his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials, have hung over his four-month-old presidency and prevented him from getting too close to Moscow.
On Thursday, journalists reported that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner was under scrutiny by the FBI because of his meetings with Russian officials before Trump took office.