by Sebastian Smith / Agence France-Presse
President Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested hosting the annual G7 summit in person rather than by videoconference, with the White House touting the occasion as a “show of force” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Leaders from the Group of Seven, which the United States heads this year, had been scheduled to gather at the presidential retreat of Camp David in June until the coronavirus crisis forced Trump to switch to plans for a remote meeting.
In a tweet, Trump said that recovery from the coronavirus pandemic was now going well enough for possibly holding the huge diplomatic gathering in-person.
“Now that our Country is ‘Transitioning back to Greatness’, I am considering rescheduling the G-7, on the same or similar date, in Washington, D.C., at the legendary Camp David. The other members are also beginning their COMEBACK. It would be a great sign to all – normalization!” Trump tweeted.
His spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany later told reporters that a face-to-face summit would be a “show of strength and optimism” where leaders would “pursue business as usual as we move forward through this pandemic.”
Due to the ambiguous wording of his tweet, it wasn’t clear if Trump is mulling Washington as well as Camp David as locations. Camp David is located around 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of the White House in Maryland.
McEnany said the administration wanted leaders to “come together at the White House.”
“We’d like to see it happen sometime in June but as to a particular date I don’t have any announcement,” she said.
G7 countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — take turns organizing the annual gathering. In 2019 it was France.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who hosted the 2018 summit, said any in-person gathering would have to prioritize safety.
– ‘Willing’ or ‘Wait?’ –
“We need to keep meeting as leaders, whether that’s virtual (or) in person,” he told reporters.
“We’ll certainly take a look at what the US is proposing as host of the G7 to see what kind of measures will be in place to keep people safe, what kind of recommendations the experts are giving in terms of how that might function.”
The most positive response so far came from the French presidency. An Elysee official said that President Emmanuel Macron was “willing to go to Camp David if the health conditions allow” and called the event “a major meeting.”
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel was cautious, saying she would “wait and see what happens.”
“Whatever form the G7 meeting takes, a video conference or whatever, I will certainly fight for multilateralism,” she said at a news conference in Berlin.
Europeans and Canadians are currently unable to travel to the United States as a result of a ban imposed by the Trump administration in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
Trump’s hosting of the summit has seen numerous hiccups, starting with his controversial push to stage it at one of his own golf resorts.
Last October, the White House announced that the Trump National Doral Golf Club near Miami had been chosen out of 12 possible sites.
The White House insisted there was no conflict of interest in using a Trump family business and claimed there was no equally suitable venue in the country.
Following strong resistance in Congress, Trump switched tack in December, saying he could use Camp David, a historic presidential retreat, instead.
In a tweet at the time, Trump blamed “both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility” for the decision to abandon the Doral plan. (AFP)