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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

G20 summit: Raft of contentious issues await Donald Trump

The US president faces disgruntled European heads of government, harbouring sharp differences with him on trade and climate change, inside the summit, while thousands of protesters outside threaten to disrupt the meeting

US president Donald Trump smiles next to First Lady Melania Trump in Krasinski Square, Warsaw, during a visit to Poland on July 6, 2017, before travelling on to the German city of Hamburg for the annual G20 summit. Alik Keplicz / AP Photo
US president Donald Trump smiles next to First Lady Melania Trump in Krasinski Square, Warsaw, during a visit to Poland on July 6, 2017, before travelling on to the German city of Hamburg for the annual G20 summit. Alik Keplicz / AP Photo

HAMBURG // US president Donald Trump arrived in Hamburg on Thursday for his first G20 summit against a backdrop of heightened terrorism fears in Europe and his own combative declarations on North Korean missiles, Russian “destabilisation” and the funding of Nato.

After raising a raft of contentious issues in his short visit to Poland earlier on Wednesday, Mr Trump and his Slovenian-born wife Melania flew into G20’s northern German port on board Air Force One to a red carpet welcome, official handshakes and a villa provided by the event's host city.

But the president now faces disgruntled European heads of government, harbouring sharp differences with him on trade and climate change, inside the summit and thousands of protesters – many potentially violent - outside.

Left-wing and green demonstrators have vowed to disrupt the G20 summit - an annual meeting of leaders from 19 key industrialised and emerging countries plus the European Union, between them accounting for four-fifths of the world’s gross domestic product and almost two-thirds of its population. Mr Trump’s presence adds another dimension to the opposition and Germany has deployed almost 20,000 police officers to counter the threat of rioting.

For delegates arriving for the two-day event, which starts on Friday, the risk of confrontation between the US and North Korea, after the Kim Jong-un regime’s test launch of a missile claimed to be capable of reaching Alaska, has concentrated minds.

During his Polish visit, Mr Trump said Washington was considering some “pretty severe things” in response.

The summit also coincides with a massive security alert in two of Germany’s neighbouring countries, Belgium and France, after the arrests of five men suspected of planning a new atrocity. Belgian police and prosecutors fear several others are still free and may attempt to mount an attack.

Referring to ISIL suicide bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station last year, carried out by accomplices of men already detained, a spokesman for the prosecutors' office told the Belgian television channel VTM the fugitives “could feel cornered … We fear that there could in consequence be the same reaction as on March 22 [2016]."

Thirty-two people were killed in those attacks. In the latest raids, four men were held in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht and the fifth man by French police in Lille.

A formidable arsenal was seized at an Anderlecht lock-up garage. Along with Kalashnikov assault rifles, other firearms, ammunition and detonators, investigators found police equipment - a flashing blue beacon and uniforms – to suggest plans to attack using disguises.

And in France, the interior minister Gerard Collomb said seven terrorist acts, and heavy loss of life, had been foiled since January.

Stemming the flow of finance to terrorists is a key focus of G20.

Delegates will discuss steps for the “global and comprehensive implementation” of recommendations from the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force, created by the smaller Group of Seven economic powers in 1989 with the original aim of fighting money laundering.

Among the issues raised by Mr Trump in Poland, European heads of government will be intrigued by his public recognition that Russia may have interfered in the US presidential election last November.

Mr Trump said he thought Russia and possibly other countries may have been involved. This appeared at odds with the belief of US intelligence officials that his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, authorised a cyber campaign to influence the election’s outcome in his favour.

The US president also spoke of working with Poland to counter Russian’s “destabilising behaviour” towards eastern European neighbours, a charge rejected by the Kremlin.

His criticisms of Moscow, which he urged to stop supporting “hostile” Iranian and Syrian regimes, set the scene for a frosty first encounter with Mr Putin when they meet on the margins of the summit on Friday.

Mr Trump fell some way short of giving the assurances on Nato that European leaders wanted.

He avoided direct reference to the military alliance’s principle of collective defence but said pointedly it was "past time" for other countries to meet their financial obligations.

Only five – the US, Greece, Poland, Britain and Estonia – meet Nato’s guideline target of contributing two per cent of their GDP.

The US easily leads the field on 3.6 per cent with Germany – a particular target of Mr Trump’s criticism – chipping in only 1.2 per cent though it insists its contributions to UN and EU peacekeeping missions and fighting ISIL should also be taken into account.

Meanwhile, another controversial G20 delegate, Turkey’s president Recip Tayyip Erdogan, launched a bitter attack on Germany’s refusal to allow him to address its large Turkish community or bring his own bodyguards.

Mr Erdogan – due in Hamburg late Thursday night – used an interview with the France 24 network to reiterate support for his Qatari allies, claiming the demands by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, which accuse Doha of sponsoring terrorism – were unacceptable.

But his chief grievances are with the host nation. Mr Erdogan said he had no regrets about comparing modern Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Nazi regime.

He labelled Europe unfair for criticising his suppression of opposing opinion and rejected accusations that he used last year’s failed coup to conduct a witch-hunt against dissidents.

* Additional reporting by Reuters

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