By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia should be attending a Group of Seven summit in Canada, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday, a controversial idea that even Moscow seemed to reject, as he headed for a chilly reception at the meeting where other leaders are set to clash with him over trade.
Russia was expelled from what was then called the G8 in 2014 because of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Trump’s suggestion of readmitting Russia was unlikely to gain any traction at the gathering of the group that includes the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain, Italy, France and Germany.
“You know, whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run and the G7, which used to be the G8, they threw Russia out, they can let Russia come back in, because we should have Russia at the negotiating table,” Trump told reporters before leaving Washington.
A senior British government source said Russia needs to change its approach before any conversation about it rejoining the G7 can begin.
A French presidential source said Trump’s proposal did not seem “coherent” in view of the latest economic sanctions imposed by the United States on Moscow.
The Russian government also appeared to snub Trump’s idea.
“Russia is focused on other formats, apart from the G7,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a brief statement reported by the government-controlled Sputnik news agency.
However, new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte threw his weight behind Trump’s call for Russia to be included, saying on Twitter it would be “in the interests of everyone.”
Trump was heading into a bigger controversy over trade as other G7 leaders, including host Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have been angered by Washington’s imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from allies including Canada and the European Union.
At least three of Trump’s fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate, all frequent critics of the president, assailed his suggestion of readmitting Russia to the group.
“This is weak,” Senator Ben Sasse said. “Putin is not our friend and he is not the president’s buddy. He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America, and our leaders should act like it.”
Trump’s presidency has been clouded by a federal investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 U.S. election and possible coordination by people in Trump’s campaign. Both Moscow and Trump have denied any such activity.
Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, one of the Kremlin’s fiercest critics, also denounced the idea.
“Vladimir Putin chose to make Russia unworthy of membership in the G8 by invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. Nothing he has done since then has changed that most obvious fact,” McCain said.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer criticized the Republican president’s leadership.
“We need the president to be able to distinguish between our allies and adversaries, and to treat each accordingly,” he said in a statement.
Trump has periodically called for closer ties with Russia, although his administration’s policy has included strong sanctions against Moscow.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Polina Nikolskaya in Moscow, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Crispian Balmer, William James in La Malbaie, Quebec; Writing by Eric Walsh; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)