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Trump Wants Russia Back in G-7, in Split With U.S. Allies

Trump Wants Russia Back in G-7, in Split With U.S. Allies

President Trump called on the world’s main economies on Friday to reinstate Russia to the Group of 7 nations four years after it was cast out for annexing Crimea, once again putting him at odds with America’s leading allies in Europe and Asia.

The president made the suggestion to reporters at the White House just before leaving for Canada to attend the annual meeting of the G-7, a gathering that already was promising to be crackling with tension over trade, Iran and Mr. Trump’s sharp-edged approach to foreign leaders.

“Russia should be in this meeting,” Mr. Trump said. “Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting? And I would recommend — and it’s up to them, but Russia should be in the meeting, it should be a part of it. You know, whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run and the G-7 — which utilized to be the G-8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

Russia joined the group in the 1990s after emerging from the wreckage of the Soviet Union, making it the G-8, but its armed intervention in its neighbor Ukraine in 2014 and seizure of the Crimean peninsula angered other main powers. The remaining members, led by President Barack Obama, expelled it in a sign of global resolve not to let international borders be redrawn by force.

The notion of readmitting Russia to the world’s most exclusive club reflected the unusually friendly approach that Mr. Trump has taken to Russia since becoming president, a policy at odds with both Republicans and Democrats in Washington as well as leaders in Europe.

Mr. Trump offered no particular reasoning for why Russia should be let back in even though it retains control of Crimea and has not lived up to an international agreement to end its intervention in eastern Ukraine.

American intelligence agencies have concluded that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia personally authorized an operation to intervene in the 2016 American presidential election with the goal of assisting Mr. Trump win. Mr. Trump has heatedly denied any collusion with Russia, although his son, son-in-law and campaign chairman met with Russians on the promise of receiving incriminating information about his opponent from the Russian government.

Mr. Trump relishes his role as a disrupter of the established international order and was already at odds with his counterparts in the group. He spent Friday skirmishing with the leaders of Canada and France over trade and then unexpectedly announced that he would skip the end of the session in Quebec on Saturday.

Britain, Germany and other members of the G-7 were unlikely to go along with Mr. Trump’s suggestion, but he won support from Italy. “I agree with President @realDonaldTrump: Russia should return to the G8,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wrote on Twitter in Italian. “It is in everyone’s interest.”

American foreign policy veterans, on the other hand, said the president’s suggestion underscored his isolation.

“President Trump has placed himself on the wrong side: with the autocrats, the corrupt, and the anti-Americans, who look to Vladimir Putin as a natural ally,” said Daniel Fried, a former career diplomat who oversaw sanctions on Russia after its Ukraine intervention. “Such language will dismay America’s friends and embolden our adversaries.”

The president’s comment arrived during a typically freewheeling discussion with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House that touched on a wide variety of domestic and foreign matters.

Among other things, he said he planned to problem more pardons soon, including probably one for Muhammad Ali, the boxing legend who was convicted of draft evasion during the Vietnam War but later cleared by the Supreme Court.

While so far he has utilized his clemency power mainly for celebrities or cases brought to him by celebrities, he said he hoped to use it soon for a wider selection of applicants. “We have 3,000 names,” he said. “We’re looking at them. Of the 3,000 names, many of those names really have been treated unfairly.”

He reflected on his commutation this week of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old drug captive whose case was brought to his attention by Kim Kardashian West. “I would get more thrill out of pardoning people that nobody knows,” he said. “Like Alice yesterday. I thought Kim Kardashian was great because she brought Alice to my attention. Alice was so great. The way she left that jail and the tears and the love that she has with her family, I mean, to me that was better than any celebrity that I can pardon.”

The president said it was too early to talk about pardons for some of his associates caught up in the different investigations now targeting him and his team, but once again insisted that he could pardon himself if he chose to, an assertion debated by legal scholars.

“I’m not above the law,” he said. “I never want anybody to be above the law. But the pardons are a very positive thing for a president. I think you see the way I’m utilizing them. And yes, I do have an absolute right to pardon myself. But I’ll never have to do it because I didn’t do anything wrong. And everybody knows it.”

He also arrived to the defense of Scott Pruitt, his embattled head of the Environmental Protection Agency, although he did not rule out replacing him. Mr. Pruitt has come under fire even from some Republicans for living in a condominium tied to a lobbyist, flying first class, surrounding himself with a large security contingent and utilizing E.P.A. staff to conduct personal business for him.

“Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the E.P.A.,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re setting records. Outside he’s being attacked very viciously by the press. I’m not saying that he’s blameless, but we’ll see what happens.”

The president raised more questions about the health of his wife, Melania, who was out of public view for several weeks following what was described as an embolization procedure to treat a benign kidney condition. She is not accompanying him to Quebec.

“First lady is great,” he told reporters. “She wanted to go. Can’t fly for one month, the doctors say. She had a large operation. That was close to a four-hour operation. And she’s doing great. Right there. You know what? She is a great first lady.”

What Mr. Trump described sounded more serious than a typical embolization, which doctors say would normally take about 90 minutes and is generally an outpatient procedure.

Mr. Trump’s advocacy for Russian membership in the G-7 was in keeping with his against-the-grain attitude toward Moscow. He has repeatedly spoken in flattering terms about Mr. Putin of Russia and pushed for closer relations.

During a telephone call after Mr. Putin’s re-election, widely deemed a sham by the rest of the world, Mr. Trump congratulated him on his victory even though his staff had written “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” on a briefing document. He also suggested that he would invite Mr. Putin for a summit meeting at the White House, to the chagrin of policymakers who have been trying to isolate Russia.

At the same time, in recent months, Mr. Trump has allowed other members of his administration to voice sharp criticism of Russia and, however reluctantly, authorized sanctions in response to its intervention in the 2016 presidential election and cyberattacks. He ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and the closure of its consulate in Seattle after the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

But he privately complained that he was being pushed to do more than he wanted. When Nikki R. Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, announced that new sanctions would be imposed on Russia for supporting Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, Mr. Trump publicly contradicted her and refused to authorize the move.

In speaking with reporters on Friday, Mr. Trump insisted that he has been tough on Moscow, even more than Hillary Clinton would have been had she won the 2016 election. “I have been Russia’s worst nightmare,” he said. “If Hillary got in — I think Putin is probably going, man, I wish Hillary won.”

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, speaking with Russian journalists accompanying Mr. Putin on a trip to China, expressed indifference to the idea of Russia being readmitted to the G-7. “We are putting emphasis on different formats,” Mr. Peskov said.

Mr. Putin was visiting Beijing ahead of a a weekend summit in the Chinese port city of Qingdao of leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group comprising China, Russia and Central Asian states that was set up by Beijing in 2001 as an alternative to American-dominated groups like the G-8.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a research institution, said Russian authorities would be foolish to take Mr. Trump’s proposal seriously.

“The president’s nature is so mercurial that it would be wrong for Russia to become an instrument in Trump’s unpredictable statements,” Mr. Trenin said, noting that, outside the White House, there is no support in the United States for any rapprochement with Russia.

“The G-8 belongs to a certain era and that era is over,” he added. “That project has failed. The integration of Russia into the Western system is over.”

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