WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday called for Russia to be reinstated to the Group of Seven, further roiling this weekend’s summit of the industrialized nations that is already tense about his trade policies.
Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One on his way to Quebec for the international meeting, Trump said Russia should be invited to rejoin the group once known as the Group of Eight until the other nations ousted Russia in 2014.
“Russia should be in this meeting. Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting?” Trump said.
“You know, whether you like it or not — and it may not be politically correct — but we have a world to run and the G-7, which used to be the G-8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
Trump defended what he depicted as his tough treatment of Russia. “Now, I love our country. I have been Russia’s worst nightmare,” Trump said. “But with that being said, Russia should be in this meeting.”
The elite group of industrialized nations expelled Russia in 2014 to punish President Vladimir Putin for annexing Crimea and supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. Putin has longed to be back in the group, which sets international policies.
Trump’s statement, which comes as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates whether Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 colluded with Russia as it attempted to influence the election in his favor, drew criticism from both Democrats and a few Republicans.
“The president’s support for inviting Russia back into the G-7, just after they meddled in the election to support his campaign, will leave millions of Americans with serious questions and suspicions,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), also took issue with Trump.
“This is weak,” Sasse said in a statement. “Putin is not our friend and he is not the president’s buddy. He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America, and our leaders should act like it.”
Trump picked up support from Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who tweeted, “I agree with President Donald Trump. Russia should return to the G-8, it is in everyone’s interest.”
But it is unlikely that the other nations — Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain and Japan — will invite Russia to rejoin the group.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov downplayed the G-7 in response to Trump’s remarks. Peskov did not say if Russia would rejoin the group if invited, but said it “has been losing its importance,” adding that the G-20, which includes Russia, has become “more important.”
Before the summit began, Trump and the leaders of longtime U.S. allies France and Canada exchanged criticism and retorts over Twitter on trade policies as Trump challenges their tariffs on U.S. products.
“Looking forward to straightening out unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries. If it doesn’t happen, we come out even better,” Trump tweeted early Friday. He also singled out Canada’s high tariffs on U.S. dairy products.
At a joint news conference on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said: “A trade war doesn’t spare anyone. It will start first of all to hurt U.S. workers.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “We are going to defend our industries and our workers.”
As he left the White House, Trump said he will fix “massive trade deficits” with other countries, and he added, “When it all straightens out, we’ll all be in love again.”
But Trump arrived in Quebec an hour late, forcing his aides to try to reschedule the planned bilateral meeting with Macron that he missed.
Trump addressed a range of questions in his impromptu news conference amid the thundering noise of his helicopter:
- He said he’s ready for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday. “I said I’ve been preparing all my life. These one-week preparations they don’t work,” Trump said. “Just ask Hillary, she didn’t do very well at the debates.” Trump said he will “only do a deal” with North Korea “if I can get it through Congress.”
- He defended his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, whose comments have drawn a rebuff from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and first lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman. “Look, Rudy is great. Rudy is Rudy. Rudy is doing a very good job actually,” Trump said. Asked about Giuliani’s comment that Stormy Daniels’ work as a porn actress is not respectable work, Trump said, “I’m not going to disagree with him on that.”
- He said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, under fire for questionable practices, is doing a “great job within the walls of the EPA,” but “outside, “he’s being attacked very viciously by the press.” He added, “I’m not saying that he’s blameless, but we’ll see what happens.”
- He disclosed his wife, Melania, underwent a serious and lengthy procedure to treat a benign kidney condition: “She wanted to go. Can’t fly for one month, the doctors say. She had a big operation. That was close to a four-hour operation. And she’s doing great.”
- He said neither team playing for the NBA championship — the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers — will be invited to the White House. “If they want to be here, it’s the greatest place on earth,” he said. “If they don’t want to be here, I don’t want them.”