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A Look At Trump's Day At The G-20


Hard to remember the last time a meeting between two world leaders drew quite so much attention as the one set for today in Hamburg, Germany, when Donald Trump sits down with Vladimir Putin. Now, we don't know what these two men plan to say to each other, but we maybe got a hint yesterday of the U.S. position. President Trump was giving a speech in Warsaw, Poland, and among other things, he said this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and its support for hostile regimes, including Syria and Iran, and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.

KELLY: NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. He is on the line from Hamburg. Scott, President Trump often says he doesn't like to tip his hand, he doesn't like to telegraph what he's going to do. Do we know what he wants to get out of this meeting?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Not really. His national security adviser actually said last week that Trump didn't have a fixed agenda for this sit-down with Vladimir Putin. Certainly the tough rhetoric he was using yesterday was a very different tone than the one he took during the campaign when he said he wanted to forge a closer partnership with Putin in order to battle ISIS in Syria. That partnership has never really gelled. Of course, Russia and the U.S. have very different goals in Syria. Russia is determined to prop up the Assad regime there.

One destabilizing action that Trump did not mention when he spoke in Poland yesterday was Russia's meddling in the U.S. election last year. Of course, that's the subject of the ongoing investigation back home. And some analysts have said, given that backdrop, Trump really can't afford to look too friendly in his meeting with Putin. So as always, the body language of these two leaders is going to get a lot of scrutiny.

KELLY: Right. That - the handshake - the length and strength of the handshake - we'll all be - we'll all be watching for. Let me - let me back us out a little bit and talk about some of the other meetings happening today because Trump is also meeting with the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto. Now, that meeting hasn't attracted as much attention as the Putin session, but this is also the first meeting for these two men since President Trump took office.

HORSLEY: That's right. And they have a very fraught relationship. They were supposed to get together in Washington this winter, but that meeting was abruptly called off when Trump complained that Mexico was not willing to pay for his border wall. Of course, Pena Nieto had made it clear last summer, when Trump was still a candidate, that Mexico wasn't about to pay for that wall.

Since that early blowup, these two have carried on a more quiet diplomacy. Pena Nieto did reach out, along with Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and persuaded Trump not to just throw the North American Free Trade Agreement overboard, but rather to renegotiate it. Those talks should be getting underway later this summer.

KELLY: Now, the backdrop, of course, to these meetings and all of the other bilaterals taking place, is the G-20 summit in Hamburg. The G-20 brings together leaders of the world's biggest economies. Is there a - is there a banner headline or a banner topic for this particular session, Scott?

HORSLEY: Well, there are several. The first meeting this morning is devoted to fighting terrorism. And that is pretty comfortable territory for President Trump, who likes to boast that he's persuaded the rest of the world to take the terrorist threat more seriously. Later, there's going to be discussion of energy and climate. And those talks could be tougher for Trump.

This is the first international summit he's attended since pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement that just about every other country in the world has signed onto. Trump has said he's willing to renegotiate that deal, but the Europeans, at least, have made their position clear that they're moving ahead to address climate change without the United States, if necessary.

KELLY: And of course, global trade is always a big topic for the G-20. I'm guessing that's especially true in Hamburg - this beautiful city on the water and, of course, one of the biggest cargo ports in Europe.

HORSLEY: Yeah, in fact, some of the workspaces here at the convention center, where the G-20 is being held, have been dressed up to look like container ships stacked with cargo.

KELLY: (Laughter) Wow, OK.

HORSLEY: So trade is very much on the agenda. Traditionally, the U.S. has used G-20 summits to promote trade agreements and lobby against protectionism. Trump, however, has taken a very different tack. His administration is weighing import restrictions on steel and aluminum. He's dropped out of that big Asia-Pacific deal. Just this week, Japan and the EU announced their own trade agreement. And there's been a real contest between Trump and the German chancellor over the benefits and costs of open borders.

KELLY: Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

KELLY: That's NPR's Scott Horsley reporting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.