This past weekend, the leaders of the seven largest economies met in Biarritz, France for the annual Group of 7 (G7) Summit. Since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, the stories coming out of the G7 have been the stuff of reality TV. Last year, Trump left the Summit early after he refused to sign the communique. An infamous photo was released reportedly showing an argument between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Trump. The prior year Trump refused to recommit to the Paris Climate Change Accord, isolating the United States and causing an uproar domestically and abroad.
Although this year’s Summit may have been less dramatic, it was no less marked by a lack of seriousness. What made this year different was that a number of leaders chose to get on Trump’s level. And instead of getting even, they made the Summit look like amateur hour. Regardless of how the Trump administration has behaved toward its allies, the behavior put on display by a number of the other partners at the G7 reflected a lack of appreciation for the G7’s purpose and how its decisions affect the world’s populace on a very real level.
In the run-up to this year’s G7 Summit, Trump made public calls for Russia’s re-admission to the group, and he reiterated his request during the Summit this past weekend. To further heighten the absurdity of his request, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte — who resigned last week for a number of reasons, including among them allegedly soliciting financial support from Moscow for his political party — reportedly backed Trump.
Trump’s request is absurd for a number of reasons. Given the premise on which Russia was ejected from the group (for its annexation of Crimea), the implication would be that Russia would have to extricate itself from Crimea and return the land to Ukraine before conversations about Russia’s re-joining could even take place. The call is also absurd because Russia’s participation would prevent the group from effectively addressing Russia’s continued threats to Ukraine, and because the request alone is offensive to the United States given Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Finally, inviting Russia to rejoin the group makes no sense in light of the efforts undertaken by a number of the G7 countries to sanction the Russian government for its destabilizing behavior in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
But Trump and Conte were not the only ones who looked ridiculous. French President Emmanuel Macron’s maneuver to invite Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Biarritz and Merkel’s defense of the “parallel event” with Zarif was ill-planned and embarrassing.
As a general rule, it would be unacceptable for a host of the G7 Summit to invite the adversary of one of the G7 countries without informing the group well beforehand and communicating a clear plan. In my years in government, and particularly those where I helped prep my principals for the G7, never did I witness such a move and if one were to take place, we would have likely been extremely offended.
But secondly, it’s unclear what Macron was hoping to achieve with this step. The plan appeared clumsy given the general confusion surrounding it. There were references to de-escalating tensions, but it remains to be seen what — if any — goal was prepared or achieved. While the effort was well-intentioned, it was unsophisticated and only served to create the same style of bravado Trump seems to enjoy.
If Macron and other G7 leaders wanted to meet with Zarif with the intention of creating a foundation for US-Iran talks — then the right move would have been to pursue a separate meeting at a separate time, for example during the United Nations General Assembly events next month, and follow-up from there. Rather, Macron’s move created the drama Trump usually seeks.
Worse, Macron’s move could provide justification to Trump to go through with his suggestion that he might invite the Russians to the G7 Summit next year, hosted by the United States.
Finally, although Macron during the press conference underscored the need for the G7 to work together to adequately address ongoing trade wars — particularly as they relate to the United States and China — the call falls flat given that very little was achieved on this issue from the very group of leaders who are tasked to handle such situations. Of course, President Trump didn’t help his case here given that he has largely isolated European and other allies from helping in this cause.
The G7 did come out with one positive outcome: a commitment by its leaders to provide “technical and financial help” to address the fires currently raging in the Amazon in Brazil. A deliverable of this kind is exactly why the G7 was created — to pull together the resources and leadership of the world’s greatest economies to address the world’s most pertinent international economic, national security, and energy issues. If all of its leaders can remember this purpose, perhaps there will be more doing and less drama the next time.
Hagar Hajjar Chemali is former Spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and former Treasury Spokesperson for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence under President Obama. She was also Director for Syria and Lebanon at the National Security Council. She is currently CEO of Greenwich Media Strategies.