Trump attends G-7 summit: What to watch

Updated 2:49 AM EDT, Fri May 26, 2017

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Italy is the final leg of Trump's nine-day trip

It is the first foreign trip of his presidency

(CNN) —  

Overnight, this serene town on the Sicilian coast turned into a nest of powerhouse international diplomacy. It’s here where President Donald Trump and his counterparts from six of the world’s most powerful countries have gathered for a two-day summit – the G-7 – to discuss the globe’s most pressing problems.

The discussions between the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States over the next two days will span from global economic issues and the Syrian civil war to Russian aggression and the fight against ISIS. It will allow new leaders – from Trump to newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron – and veterans – like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – the chance to shape global events.

Here’s what to watch:

Russia – the elephant in the room

For the third year straight, Russia will not have a seat at the summit, previously known as the G-8. Yet Russia will still be at the core of discussions between the assembled heads of state.

Russia was booted from the group after it invaded and annexed Crimea, and it has remained sidelined amid its continued refusal to return the territory to Ukraine coupled with its ongoing support for separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

But Moscow’s actions around the globe in the last year have only heightened concerns about Russia in the year since the last G-7 summit – and those actions may also complicate the conversation this year.

Russian meddling in a series of Western elections – most recently in the United States and France – have triggered widespread condemnation. Russia’s brazen interference in the US election will be a sensitive topic at the G-7, though, as a cloud of suspicion continues to hang over Trump and his associates amid the federal investigation into contacts between people associated with his campaign and suspected Russian intelligence operatives.

And while the overwhelming consensus among G-7 countries has been to continue to condemn and confront Russia’s aggressive actions around the world, Trump brings a desire to boost cooperation with Russia to the table.

Trump’s most recent efforts to ease tensions between the US and Russia will also weigh heavily on the G-7 summit, particularly his decision to share highly classified intelligence obtained by a US ally with the Russian foreign minister. The move has prompted intelligence-sharing concerns among key US allies.

Trump has also yet to address the conflict in Ukraine at length, and the G-7 summit may reveal the first glimpse of how the Trump administration intends to approach negotiations on resolving the conflict that have shown few signs of progress.


Trump has made clear that defeating the terrorist group is a top priority for his administration and in his first five months in office Trump has sought to ramp up the fight against ISIS. At the start of his foreign trip, Trump spoke in Saudi Arabia about the need for Muslim countries in the region to redouble their efforts to fight Islamist terrorism. He is likely to urge his G-7 counterparts to dig deeper in the fight against ISIS as well – particularly in fighting terrorism financing.

The terrorist attack in Manchester, England, this week that killed 22 people is sure to drive the discussion on counterterrorism efforts.

But while Trump’s European counterparts have shown an increasing willingness to devote more resources toward counterterrorism efforts, several of those leaders are likely to deviate with Trump’s hardline approach to combating terrorism.

Trump has tried to enact a full stop on refugees entering the United States and sought to bar citizens of six Muslim-majority countries – a move currently blocked by court – while other leaders, like Germany’s Merkel, have sought to keep their doors open to asylum-seekers fleeing conflict, including those from Syria.

Those diverging approaches to terrorism will be on full display during the two-day summit.

Paris climate agreement

Trump just may find himself the target of a full-court press lobbying effort from his counterparts at the G-7.

He pledged during the campaign to pull the US from the landmark Paris climate agreement that compels countries around the world to reduce their carbon emissions to combat climate change. And now, Trump is mulling whether he will make good on that pledge.

France’s Macron already pressed Trump on the issue during their first meeting on Thursday amidst the NATO summit in Brussels. And Trump is likely to face more pressure to stay in the climate agreement, bolstering the arguments Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner – both senior advisers – have leveled to urge him to stay in the deal.

Regardless of the decision Trump makes, the US has effectively discarded with the climate deal in all but formality. Trump has signed a series of executive orders repealing environmental regulations that President Barack Obama put in place to ensure the US would meet its emissions reduction targets.

Economic issues

The global economy is always a core topic of the G-7 summit, but Trump’s presidency and the United Kingdom’s referendum vote to leave the European Union have already moved markets and have brought new uncertainty.

Trump has vowed to renegotiate reams of international trade agreements, railing against free trade deals that he has said are lopsided against the United States. Other leaders will look to ensure their economies won’t suffer as a result of Trump’s new approach.

The G-7 countries are also bracing for the United Kingdom’s upcoming exit from the European Union, which – depending on the terms of its exit – could rock the world economy.


International efforts to bring an end to the six years of civil war in Syria and transition Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out of power have failed amid Russian and Iranian support for the authoritarian regime.

Despite expressing a reticence to deepen the US’ involvement in the conflict, particularly toward Assad, Trump last month approved the first US strikes against the Syrian regime after the government launched a chemical attack against civilians.

But it’s unclear how his administration will tackle diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict and whether he will bring any fresh approaches to the table.