- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

BERLIN — When President Trump arrives late Thursday for his inaugural gathering of leaders from the world’s 20 largest economies, he will be contending not only with Russian President Vladimir Putin in their fraught first face-to-face meeting, but also with host Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, an experienced leader who has clashed with Mr. Trump and hopes to keep the summit tightly focused on her favored agenda.

The biggest theatrics at the Friday-Saturday Group of 20 summit in Hamburg center on the highly anticipated meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin, as well as violent street protests planned by left-wing extremists and anarchists who have descended on the northern German port city in recent days.

But for most Germans, the most significant aspect of the G-20 is that Ms. Merkel, a staunch backer of “green energy” and multilateral free trade policies, is hosting the summit on her own turf — she was born in Hamburg — and could be the heaviest hitter at a gathering that includes the world’s most famous and nationalistic strongmen, including Mr. Trump, Mr. Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Her local allies note that Ms. Merkel is the only world leader to have attended every G-20 summit, which includes the leading industrial and developing nation economies, since the first was held in 2008.

Angela Merkel knows that maybe she’s the most experienced head of government who will be at the G-20,” said Juergen Hardt, a member of the German chancellor’s Christian Democratic Union party and chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament.

“This is her chance to show that the multilateral way is the best way,” Mr. Hardt said in an interview Wednesday. “We need to enforce multilateral structures, but we have some leaders in the world who are not convinced yet that the multilateral approach is the better way to solve problems.”

In addition to the crises of the day, Mr. Trump is walking into unfriendly territory where his “America first” foreign and economic policy clash with cherished EU ideals.

Mr. Hardt pointed to seething EU frustration with Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate accord — the vast international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions — on grounds, according to Mr. Trump, that it unfairly stacked the deck against the U.S. and “doesn’t serve America’s interests.”

Ms. Merkel has suggested that she will use the G-20 as a high-profile stage to dramatize to Mr. Trump the fallout from his Paris decision.

“We cannot expect easy discussions on climate change at the G-20 summit,” she told German lawmakers last week.

More generally, Ms. Merkel has expressed distaste with Mr. Trump’s protectionist trade rhetoric, including sharp criticism of Germany’s bilateral trade surplus, and plans to rally world leaders behind the cause of free trade through large multinational agreements.

Anyone who “thinks that the problems of this world can be solved by protectionism and isolation lives under a huge misconception,” Ms. Merkel said without naming any names.

The message seemed tailored to win over Asian leaders who will be in attendance at the G-20, most notably Japan and South Korea, which are still reeling from Mr. Trump’s torpedoing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a massive trade agreement that the Obama administration spent years trying to reach between nations from Asia to North and South America.

In a deal whose timing will send a message, Japan and the European Union indicated that they are ready to announce a wide-ranging free trade agreement on Thursday as the G-20 summit opens.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters that she was “quite confident” that a broad agreement can be announced with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to lower tariffs on autos and agricultural goods.

“You can do good, fair, transparent and sustainable trade agreements where you win and I win, and not the American view, which seems to be, ‘You lose and I win,’” Ms. Malmstrom said.

Trump hangs tough

If Mr. Trump is having second thoughts about trade, though, it was not evident from his Twitter account as he departed Washington on Wednesday night for a trip that includes a stop in Poland.

“The United States made some of the worst Trade Deals in world history,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Why should we continue these deals with countries that do not help us?”

The president’s bilateral meeting with Mr. Putin is likely to dominate news from the summit after months of saturated media coverage about Russian meddling in the presidential election and five ongoing investigations in Washington into suspected collusion between Trump campaign aides and Moscow — charges that Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin both vehemently deny.

But with Islamic State, Ukraine, Afghanistan and now the North Korean missile launch on the list of bilateral issues Russia and the U.S. have to discuss, it’s not clear how much time each crisis will receive. White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn’t say Wednesday whether Mr. Trump even plans to raise the issue of election interference with Mr. Putin.

“We’re not going to get ahead of their meetings,” she told reporters traveling with the president.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who will attend the G-20 gathering, said in a statement Wednesday night that Syria — and the endgame after the impending defeat of Islamic State — will be one topic that Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin will definitely discuss.

“The United States and Russia certainly have unresolved differences on a number of issues, but we have the potential to appropriately coordinate in Syria in order to produce stability and serve our mutual security interests,” Mr. Tillerson said. “If our two countries work together to establish stability on the ground, it will lay a foundation for progress on the settlement of Syria’s political future.”

“The United States believes Russia, as a guarantor of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad] and an early entrant into the Syrian conflict, has a responsibility to ensure that the needs of the Syrian people are met and that no faction in Syria illegitimately retakes or occupies areas liberated from [Islamic State] or other terrorist groups’ control,” he added.

During the election campaign, Mr. Trump called for friendlier relations with Mr. Putin to join forces against the Islamic State terrorist group. But amid the probes, the White House is treading cautiously about expectations for the meeting and how Mr. Putin might portray it.

Russia is a major power, and it can play a constructive or a not-constructive role on a whole host of international issues,” said Jeffrey Rathke, a foreign policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “So there remains that desire for an improved relationship.”

But he added, “There clearly are risks when you’ve got a foreign policy process as disorganized as it appears to be in this administration.”

For Ms. Merkel, the real push will be to get the G-20 countries to agree that the best way to address the central challenges facing humankind today, whether it’s environmental change, terrorism, immigration or refugee flows, is through tightly woven multinational cooperation and agreements, Mr. Hardt said.

The extent to which she will be successful is up for debate. Germany will “no doubt do its best to refocus G-20 commitment on global cooperation,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, who heads the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a think tank of high-ranking Russian government officials and business leaders in Moscow.

“But [she] has no magic wand,” Mr. Lukyanov wrote in an analysis circulated this week by the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“The global economy faces acute problems of a purely political nature, [and] it was feared in 2008 that protectionism would be the spontaneous reaction of several governments,” he wrote. “It is now the deliberate and official policy of the most powerful member of G-20, the United States. If the United States proclaims ‘America First,’ it is just [a] matter of time until the rest of the world will turn to more mercantilist thinking as well.”

‘Militant resistance’

The likelihood is also high for clashes between demonstrators and some 20,000 German police officers who have set up heavily guarded perimeters around Hamburg. With posters plastered around other German cities calling for protests in Hamburg, as many as 100,000 demonstrators are expected, although reports say the danger stems from about 8,000 left-wing extremists believed to be heading to the city.

While the protesters will speak out against a wide range of issues such as war, nuclear power, climate change, racism and big business, the motto for one of the approximately 30 demonstrations has been announced as “Welcome to hell.”

“It’s a combative message,” organizer Andreas Blechanschmidt told Agence France-Presse. “But it’s also meant to symbolize that G-20 policies worldwide are responsible for hellish conditions like hunger, war and the climate disaster.”

He described plans to try to block access to the venue where G-20 leaders will gather and said activists “reserve for themselves the option of militant resistance” against police.

Dave Boyer reported from Washington.

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