La Malbaie, Quebec (CNN)President Donald Trump planned an early exit from the Group of Seven talks here Saturday, concluding his fraught visit to the yearly conference of industrialized nations several hours before his counterparts, who remained behind to discuss cleaning up the oceans and halting climate change.
Trump departs G7 ahead of climate change talks
Reluctant to participate at all in this year's G7, Trump chose ultimately to make a truncated visit, arriving behind schedule on Friday and departed before anyone else on Saturday. He made an early exit to fly directly to Singapore, where a high-stakes summit with Kim Jong Un awaits.
In public remarks, Trump has spoken of those landmark talks in far rosier terms than the G7 summit, leading to the impression he was looking forward more to sitting down with a longtime adversary than America's closest allies. His suggestion on both Friday and Saturday that Russia should be reinstated in the G7 after five years in exile only contributed to the impression that Trump is purposely fracturing the international order.
Senior administration officials downplayed Friday's Russia remark, saying there was no organized effort to allow Russia back in. And one aide suggested Trump only made the comment offhand after reading about Russia's expulsion from the group.
But it nonetheless threw the riverside summit into further turmoil. In Canada, Trump confronted a fractured set of Western alliances that he has shown little desire to repair. Instead, Trump has embraced the discord with his French, Canadian, German and British counterparts, lashing out on Twitter in the hours before he will depart on Air Force One for Quebec.
When he met leaders face-to-face inside the neo-gothic Manoir Richelieu hotel, the mood was more jovial. Trump praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he's formed a frosty bond. And he made light of the disputes in photo-ops ahead of meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Jokingly asked to arm wrestle with the French leader, Trump sought to downplay the feud.
"He'd be very tough to beat," Trump said. "He's my friend. We've had a great relationship right from the beginning."
Those assurances aside, anxiety over the future of US leadership has become more palpable than perhaps any other point in Trump's presidency, with the acrimony spilling into view just as the largest industrial nations hoped to put forward a united front.
Trump lashed about at Trudeau, the summit's host, on the eve of his departure, calling him "indignant." And he lectured Macron on the US trade deficit. Both jabs were made on Twitter.
Trump was unenthusiastic about traveling to Canada for the talks, according to aides, who said he questioned whether his presence was absolutely required. Even as late as Thursday afternoon, he quizzed staffers over whether it was too late to cancel his participation.
Trump was told that scrubbing his visit altogether would appear like he was shrinking from a fight he proudly began. But his stay in Canada was nonetheless cut short. He arrived well behind schedule on Saturday, causing a planning meeting with Macron to be rescheduled later in the day.
On Saturday morning, he arrived late to a breakfast focused on gender equality, taking his seat as the Canadian ambassador to France was addressing the already-assembled leaders.
And he departed before the summit officially concludes, skipping the section focused on climate change and the environment and sending an aide in his place.
Trudeau had arranged for the climate section to be a chief accomplishment of this year's G7, which occurs in a different members' country each year. Asked by a reporter on Thursday whether he was disappointed Trump was leaving early, the President answered for him.
"No," Trump said. "He's happy."