President pushes allies on trade before Putin meeting

Trump met with 3 leaders today

Associated Press

OSAKA, Japan

With an eye on the race back home to challenge him, President Donald Trump opened his most consequential trip of the year today by pushing allies on trade and defense spending at an international summit.

Trump opened the G20 summit in Japan by meeting with the host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, followed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He sounded optimistic about inking trade deals with all three and praised alliances he has strained in the past.

With an array of world issues on the agenda, Trump could not resist weighing in on events at home: As he held meetings with these world leaders, 10 Democrats stood on a stage in Miami as part of the first debates of the 2020 presidential race.

“I just passed a television set on the way here. I saw that health care and maximum health care was given to 100 percent of the illegal immigrants coming into our country by the Democrats,” Trump said, turning to Merkel. “I don’t know if you saw it – it wasn’t very exciting, I can tell you. ... So I look forward to spending time with you rather than watching.”

Trump also was set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin today, their first sit-down since the special counsel found extensive evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

The president, who in the past has disrupted carefully choreographed summits by attacking allies and adversaries alike, made no public mention of his recent complaints that the U.S. military alliance with Japan is one-sided, that Germany was taking advantage of the U.S. on support for NATO and that India’s tariffs on the U.S. “must be withdrawn.”

Abe and Trump discussed trade and North Korea, while the three leaders spoke about enhanced security cooperation in the South China Sea and Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant that Trump has put on a blacklist and is viewed as a national security threat because of the possibility that its equipment could be used for cyberespionage.

And earlier, as Abe officially received Trump, the president waved over his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior White House aides, to pose with him for the official welcome photo. Trump and Abe were later joined by Modi, who a day earlier was the target of a Trump tweet complaining about tariffs. The portion of the meeting open to reporters was convivial: at Trump’s urging, the three leaders engaged in a group fist bump.

But the day’s main event will be Trump’s first public meeting with Putin since the Helsinki summit last July in which Trump refused to side with U.S. intelligence agencies over his Russian counterpart.

Trump said in advance that he expected a “very good conversation” with Putin but told reporters that “what I say to him is none of your business.” His aides have grown worried that Trump could use the meeting to once again attack special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe on the world stage, particularly since Mueller recently agreed to testify before Congress next month.