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Donald Trump spent the weekend in the south of France, waffling on where he stands on the trade war he started with China. On Monday morning, he appeared to change his position yet again.
Trump was in Biarritz for the Group of 7 summit, a meeting of the leaders of the world’s wealthiest countries. During the weekend, Trump first said he regretted the trade war, then denied he had any second thoughts about imposing tariffs, before threatening even greater tariffs on China.
On Monday morning, Trump appeared to flip his position again, calling Chinese President Xi Jinping a “great leader,” and claiming that Beijing was ready to restart talks to resolve the trade war.
“We were called and we’re going to start very shortly to negotiate,” Trump said on Monday. “We’ll see what happens, but I think we’re going to make a deal.”
He followed this comment with a tweet saying he had “great respect” for Xi and his representatives, after Reuters reported Chinese officials saying they want a “calm” resolution to the trade war..
But Trump didn’t just spend his time in the south of France sending out confusing messages about China, he also had a lot to say about Russia, Iran, the U.K., Japan and about how great his golf club would be at hosting next year’s summit. Here's what you need to know about Trump's very confusing weekend in Biarritz.
Trump can’t make his mind up on China
Days before the G7 Summit began, Washington and Beijing traded a fresh round of retaliatory tariffs, and Trump added a new threat: that he might force U.S. businesses to stop doing business with China completely.
When asked in Biarritz on Sunday if he regretted the escalating trade war, Trump appeared to permit a rare moment of self-reflection. “Yeah, for sure,” he told reporters. “I have second thoughts about everything.”
But, when the media reported those comments, the White House claimed he had been “greatly misinterpreted” and that Trump only responded “in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”
Trump said Monday that after his comments earlier in the day — he didn’t specify which ones —his trade negotiators had received two “very good calls” from China. “This is the first time I’ve seen them where they really want to make a deal. And I think that’s a very positive step,” Trump added.
Trump really wants Putin back in the G7
During a leaders’ dinner in the seaside resort’s 19th-century lighthouse on Saturday night, there was a heated debate between Trump and pretty much everyone else over the prospect of allowing Russian to re-join the G7.
Russia was kicked out of the then-G8 in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea, and Trump has long advocated for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be included in these meetings. Once again he was met by a wall of opposition, according to diplomatic sources speaking to the Guardian.
While Trump did receive some support from Italy’s outgoing Giuseppe Conte, and Japan’s Shinzo Abe remained neutral, there was strong opposition to the proposal from the U.K.’s Boris Johnson, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, EU council president Donald Tusk, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron.
“It became a bit tense, to say the least,” one European diplomat told the paper. “Most of the other leaders insisted on this being a family, a club, a community of liberal democracies and for that reason, they said you cannot allow President Putin – who does not represent that – back in.”
Trump claims he wasn’t blindsided by the arrival of Iran's foreign minister
The arrival of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday took many of the diplomats by surprise, but Trump claimed that Macron — who is trying to ease tensions caused by the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and subsequent economic sanctions — had kept the Americans in the loop about Zarif’s visit.
“I spoke to President Macron yesterday, and I knew everything he was doing,” Trump said. “And I approve whatever he was doing. And I thought it was fine.”
Neither Trump nor any U.S. officials took part in the surprise talks, and Trump told reporters he didn’t want to meet Zarif right now.
“I think it’s too soon to meet, I didn’t want to meet,” Mr. Trump said. “But it’s true there’ll be time to meet with Iran, and it’s going to be a great thing for Iran. They have a great potential.”
Trump makes big promises to the U.K. The U.K. isn’t so sure.
The U.K. is set to leave the European Union at the end of October, and Trump has promised it U.K. "a very big trade deal” once it does.
"And now at some point, they won't have the obstacle, they won't have the anchor around their ankle, because that's what they have,” Trump said, referencing the EU.
But Trump also promised to do the deal “quickly” — which is unlikely to happen given how complex such an agreement would be. British prime minister Boris Johnson later told the BBC that it would be tough to complete a deal within 12 months.
“My own experience of the way Americans work, the size and complexity of the deal we want to do probably means we won't be able to do within a year.”
Trump claims he has reached a trade deal with Japan. Japan doesn’t think so.
Trump told reporters Sunday that he had reached a trade agreement with Japanese leader Shinzo Abe.
“We’ve been working on a deal with Japan for a long time,” he said. “And we’ve agreed in principle … billions and billions of dollars.” Trump offered no other details about the supposed deal, though U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer told reporters that the deal would focus on “agriculture, industrial tariffs and digital trade.”
But the Japanese prime minister poured cold water on Trump’s announcement.
“We still have some remaining work that has to be done at the working level,” Abe said.
A trade deal of this size would likely also require congressional approval.
Trump wants to host the next G7 summit at one of his golf resorts
Trump told reporters Monday morning that he is considering hosting next year’s G7 summit at the National Doral luxury golf resort near Miami, one of Trump’s own golf resorts.
“It’s a great place,” Trump told reporters during a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. “It’s got tremendous acreage, many hundreds of acres, so we can handle whatever happens. It’s really — people are really liking it and plus it has buildings that have 50 to 70 units. And so each delegation can have its own building.”
The U.S. is due to host the G7 summit in 2020 as part of the normal rotation of among member nations.
But, the prospect of him using one of his own resorts to host a high profile international summit is already drawing criticism from those who accuse Trump of cashing in on his presidency.
Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak during a bilateral meeting at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)