WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump has called for readmitting Russia into the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations, a call that puts him directly at odds with some of the United States’ closest allies.
The suggestion from Trump, made on June 8 on the eve of a summit of G7 leaders, was the latest in a string of conciliatory statements by him toward Moscow, a stance that has clashed with many congressional Republicans and Democrats, as well as large parts of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.
Russia was expelled from the group four years ago after annexing Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and sparking a war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,300 people.
Speaking to reporters outside the White House, Trump said Russia deserved to rejoin the group.
"Why are we having a meeting without Russia in the meeting?” he said. "They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table."
The call threatens to further strain what was shaping up to be a tough summit for the G7, whose members have also been clashing with the Trump administration over a looming trade war.
Aside from the United States, the G7 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Britain.
Canada, which is hosting the summit, responded quickly, saying it remains opposed to readmitting Russia.
European Union President Donald Tusk, who was also attending summit, also rejected Trump's suggestion.
"Let's leave the G7 as it is...it's a lucky number at least in our culture," he said.
In Italy, meanwhile, a spokesman for the new populist government that has signaled a similarly conciliatory approach toward Moscow said Rome agrees with Trump’s call. In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that Russia is “focusing its attention on formats other than the Group of Seven.”
Trump, who arrived in Canada around midday, was scheduled to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron later in the day.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that Russia is “focusing its attention on formats other than the Group of Seven.”
Since before taking office, Trump has repeatedly called for a more conciliatory approach to Moscow, criticizing some of the harder-line policies put in place by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Those calls, however, have been met with direct and indirect pushback in Congress, as well as by some of his top advisers.
Over his objections, U.S. lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a sweeping sanctions bill last year that imposed tough new punishments on Moscow for its actions in Ukraine, Syria, and other matters.
In the United States, Trump's comments drew criticism from some fellow Republicans, including Senator John McCain, who slammed Trump for treating Putin with "the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies.
"Those nations that share our values and have sacrificed alongside us for decades are being treated with contempt," he said in a statement. "This is the antithesis of so-called ‘principled realism’ and a sure path to diminishing America’s leadership in the world.”
Other Republicans chiming in included John Kasich, the Ohio governor who challenged Trump in the 2016 election and has signaled he may do so again in 2020.
"Russia was kicked out of the G8 because of its invasion and annexation of Crimea," he said.
Trump’s call also comes amid the continuing criminal and congressional investigations into what the U.S. intelligence community concluded was a campaign by Moscow to use propaganda and hacking to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Trump has repeatedly attacked the criminal probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation has so far indicted 19 people and three companies on various related charges.
Among them are Trump's first national security adviser, as well as his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who was expected in U.S. federal court on June 8 amid allegations that he sought to tamper with witnesses in Mueller’s probe.
Five people have pleaded guilty to date.