Trump Reiterates Call to Bring Russia Back Into Group of Eight

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump reiterated his call to bring Russia back into the Group of Eight bloc, stoking an already-fraught relationship between the U.S. and its allies at a summit in Canada.

“I would rather see Russia in the G-8 as opposed to the G-7,” Trump said Saturday at a press conference on the sidelines of a G-7 summit in Charlevoix, Canada. “I would say the G-8 is a more meaningful group than the G-7, absolutely.”

Trump first floated the idea of a Russia return before he headed to Canada on Friday for the meeting, throwing a further wrench into a grouping that’s grappling with his move to slap tariffs on allies’ steel and aluminum exports. While he won a quick endorsement from Italy, other nations including Germany and the U.K. warned Russia would need to change its behavior in order for the G-8 to be revived.

Trump also criticized his predecessor Barack Obama, saying he allowed Russia to annex Crimea in 2014. That move prompted the G-8 to expel Russia, taking the grouping to the G-7.

“Obama can say all he wants but he allowed Russia to take Crimea,” Trump added. “I may have had a much different attitude.”

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said nations should “engage but beware” when it comes to Russia. “Let’s remember why the G-8 became the G-7,” May told Sky News on Friday. “And before discussions could begin on any of this, we would have to ensure Russia is amending its ways and taking a different route.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters at the summit on Saturday that for Russia to rejoin the G-8 there needed to be "substantial progress" on implementing the Minsk accords, which laid out military and political steps to end the conflict between Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian separatists.

“Unfortunately, we have not reached a stage there which would allow Russia to get a seat again at our table,” Merkel said.

Trump has also caused concern among his party and even within his administration in seeking to repair U.S. relations with the Kremlin. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, castigated Trump for his remarks on Vladimir Putin and for his animosity toward U.S. allies and trading partners. And as Trump spoke Friday morning, his Defense Secretary James Mattis warned about Russia in remarks to reporters at a NATO meeting in Brussels.

The White House confirmed on Thursday that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has offered to host a summit between Trump and Putin in Vienna. Trump hasn’t said whether he is considering the proposal.

Trump has periodically expressed skepticism about the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election that he won, and he has forcefully rejected assertions that Russia was responsible for his victory. He and Putin occasionally speak by phone -- the Russian president has hinted the calls happen more often than the White House has publicly acknowledged -- and they have met twice overseas since Trump was inaugurated.

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