WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump spoke with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over the phone on Monday and discussed plans of expanding the Group of 7 to include a more diverse gathering of countries, such as India and Russia, that would better represent the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The development comes two days after Trump said he would invite Putin to attend a G7 summit in the United States in September, the latest instance of a renewed round of personal diplomacy between the two leaders this year, according to The New York Times.
Hours after the Kremlin first described the call on its website, the White House released a statement saying that the men had discussed “the latest efforts to defeat the coronavirus pandemic and reopen global economies” and “progress toward convening the G7.”
A largely similar Kremlin readout said Trump had initiated the call, and a senior White House official said Trump had extended a personal invitation to Putin to attend the gathering, which the president will host.
Russia was expelled in 2014 from what was known as the Group of 8 after Putin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Trump has supported re-entry but even as he reached out to Putin, key US allies, especially the United Kingdom had reiterated that Russia was an outlaw nation that should be denied readmittance into the group of industrialized nations, whose members include the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Japan.
According to media reports, Trump has often spoken of readmitting Russia to the Group of 7, but the idea has failed to gain traction with the alliance’s other members, although President Emmanuel Macron of France said in 2019 that the move could be “appropriate” if Russia were to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where it has supported a pro-Moscow separatist movement.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on Saturday, Trump proposed a meeting of the bloc in September that in addition to Russia would also be attended by South Korea, Australia and India.
“I don’t feel that as a G7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world,” the President said, according to a pool report of his remarks. “It’s a very outdated group of countries.”
It was unclear from Trump’s remarks whether he was renewing his call for Russia’s formal admission to the group and also suggesting that other nations be added to its ranks. But a senior administration official, speaking on background Monday, indicated that he was proposing they attend as one-time guests.
“As president of the G7, the United States can invite additional countries to participate in the annual summit meetings,” the official said.
“Any permanent expansion of the G7 would require the agreement of all members,” he added.
The official also said the goal was “to include a more diverse gathering of countries that better represents the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Trump floated his new plan on Saturday evening, hours after German Chancellor Angela Merkel dealt a seemingly fatal blow to an earlier proposal that he host the summit in the Washington area in June, despite the continued threat of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin statement said that the leaders had also discussed oil markets and “strategic stability,” and that Putin congratulated Trump on the SpaceX rocket launch on Saturday. The statement did not mention the protests rocking American cities.
The White House statement noted that the Trump administration had shipped 200 ventilators to Russia in mid-May, several weeks after a Russian military cargo plane carrying masks and ventilators landed in New York, the Times reported further.
“It was a very nice gesture on behalf of President Putin,” he said, adding: “I’m not concerned about Russian propaganda. Not even a little bit.”
“To the best of our knowledge, this is probably one of the first peer-reviewed studies that examine the influence that temperature, precipitation and UV light have in terms of virus transmission in the general population across the United States,” said Sehra.