President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he's considering holding a meeting in the US with the leaders of the world's major economies after all because it would be a "great sign to all" of things returning to normal during the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement was the latest effort by Trump to signal to the nation that the US economy is humming again after months-long shutdowns meant to slow the spread of Covid-19 are beginning to be lifted across the country.
Trump had scheduled the Group of Seven summit for June 10-12 at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. But in March, he announced he was cancelling the annual meeting because of the pandemic and that the leaders would confer by video conference instead.
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"Now that our Country is 'Transitioning back to Greatness', I am considering rescheduling the G-7, on the same or similar date, in Washington, D.C., at the legendary Camp David," Trump tweeted. "The other members are also beginning their COMEBACK. It would be a great sign to all - normalization!"
The G-7 optimism came as Trump met with Democratic Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to discuss reopening plans in their states. The pair praised the administration's efforts to expand testing to critical industries, including meatpacking, in their states.
Formal White House preparations for the meeting were halted two months ago when the summit was called off. And the Trump administration has maintained travel restrictions and quarantine requirements for travellers from Europe, home to four of the G-7 nations. And earlier this week the US and Canada agreed to keep their shared border closed to nonessential travel through June 21.
The District of Columbia remains under stay-at-home orders at least through June 8, though Maryland began relaxing the restrictions last week. At the same time, leaders of the G-7 member nations are in some cases still grappling with the virus in their own countries or in various states of reopening their economies.
A senior White House official said Trump was seriously considering rescheduling the summit for some point in June, likely toward the end of the month, at either the White House or Camp David. The subject was discussed on a call between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday morning, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked whether it would be appropriate to hold the G-7 while ordinary citizens cannot travel to the US from Europe.
"America is reopening. The world is reopening and what a show of strength and optimism to have all the leaders of these countries come together at the White House and pursue business as usual as we move forward through this pandemic," McEnany said.
If the summit happens, the US would request that delegations be pared back to minimum personnel and would curtail nonessential events like the spousal programme. A final decision would be needed in the coming days to ensure adequate time to prepare for the high-level meeting, the official said.
Macron's office said in a statement that "given the importance of the G7 in the response to the crisis, the President is willing to go to Camp David, if the health conditions allow it".
"Whatever form the G-7 meeting takes, whether it's a video conference or otherwise, I will definitely fight for multi-lateralism, that's very clear, both in the G-7 and the G-20," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Pressed by AP on whether she would consider an actual trip to the US, Merkel said: "I chose my words with care."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it an interesting idea, but said leaders needed a lot more details. He said it was important G-7 leaders meet in June so they can discuss the pandemic and restoring economic activity.
"We need to keep meeting as leaders. Whether that's virtual or in person we will certainly take a look at what the US is proposing as host of the G-7 to see what kind of measures will be in place to keep people safe, what kind of recommendations the experts are giving in terms of how that might function," Trudeau said.
"There are a lot of discussions to come, but we look forward to having those discussions with the American hosts."
The US holds the G-7′s rotating presidency this year and gets to determine where the meeting is held and sets the agenda. Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan are the other members.
Trump originally planned to hold the annual summit at his private golf course near Miami. But he switched the venue to Camp David, which he visited last weekend and which is run by the US military, after a public outcry over holding it at one of his money-making properties.