Rebecca Grant: Trump and the G-7 -- These are the three big scores from Biarritz

“A really great G-7,” said President Trump, announcing an imminent, major trade deal with Japan late Sunday.

Then on Monday, Macron said Iran’s President Rouhani is willing to talk with the United States.

This is the third G-7 meeting for President Trump, and by far, the best. Admit it. Before Trump became president, few noticed these meetings of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and the United States, which have been taking place since 1975.

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In 2018, President Trump left the G-7 meeting in Canada in a huff over the final communique.  This year, the press expected fireworks. Divisions. Salty language, at least.

They are “friends of mine, for the most part,” Trump teased before departing for Biarritz.

Friends, indeed. The G-7 is back on track. Frazzled sometimes, but fully functional. That’s because the G-7 are the core guardians of the “rules-based order” in the world today.

And they’ve pulled off three big scores in Biarritz.

Topping the list is Iran. Iran is a major worry for the G-7 this summer, overshadowing even Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

When Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson came out of their breakfast meeting talking about increasing British pork pie exports to the US, it was pure distraction.

They knew, by then, that Macron had a bombshell coming: a drop-in at Biarritz by Zarif, who had been in Paris.

Macron never misses a chance to show off a little independence in foreign policy. With Zarif, he took a huge gamble.

Macron said on Monday he told Trump about the Zarif visit before the G-7 opened, then discussed it with the G-7 as a whole at dinner. Did Macron tap his wineglass with a knife, and make his announcement?  What a dinner that must have been.

Anyway, the G-7 leaders agreed to let Macron try to talk sense to Iran.

Credit Trump for letting Macron take the ball and run with it. The president of France has talked frequently, but not fruitfully, with Iran throughout the summer.  For months, Iran’s refused any real negotiations. This time, Macron used the leverage of the G-7 for a breakthrough.

“I think there’s been a true change,” Macron said of Rouhani.

As the G-7 knows, Iran is getting desperate. Trump said on Sunday and again on Monday that Iran is “not the same country it was two and a half years ago.”  Trump knows from intelligence sources that sanctions are hurting. Iran is using up its military options, yet maximum pressure remains.

The G-7 is back on track. Frazzled sometimes, but fully functional. That’s because the G-7 are the core guardians of the “rules-based order” in the world today.

Trump’s conditions are clear. No nuclear weapons, no ballistic missiles, and a longer timeline for a new Iran deal. Trump does not want regime change and insists Iran “must be good players.”

Trump said Macron kept him informed “every step of the way.” And Macron played it smart, keeping the Zarif meeting a lower, ministerial level, where Trump, as head of state, did not need to participate.

If all goes to plan, Trump and Rouhani could meet in a matter of weeks. Naturally, Iran wants some “compensation.” One prospect is to restore temporarily the oil sales waivers terminated in May. Or use the INSTEX credit mechanism Britain, France and Germany set up for food and medicine purchases by Iran.

Either way, the G-7’s backing of Macron showed Iran has failed in its top objective: to split the U.S. from Britain, France and Germany. The G-7, Japan included, is pulling together as a team to get past this Iran crisis.

The G-7’s second success was riding out the Russia debate. Trump again brought up the possibility of readmitting Russia, who was kicked after annexing Crimea in 2014.

“Better to have Russia inside the tent,” Trump suggested on Monday. This is a real possibility.  Macron often states that Russia’s future lies with Europe and tosses off the phrase “Lisbon to Vladivostok.”

France and Germany both voted to readmit Russia to the Council of Europe, a human rights forum, at its latest meeting in Strasbourg in June.

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What’s Trump’s motivation? Short term, the U.S. president needs room to triangulate. Russia and China are acting like best friends and have significantly increased their military cooperation.  Dangling an overture to Russia plays to Putin’s ego.

Of course, as Trump pointed out, Putin might not show up. “Whether or not he would come, psychologically, that’s a tough thing for him to do.” Nice dig.

It’s refreshing to hear these world leaders in candid discussions. That’s the unique purpose of the G-7: a closed-door group where disagreements can be aired without catastrophe.

The G-7 was formed during the Cold War to discuss and regulate economic issues. But it’s always had a military bedrock, too.

What pundits overlook is the G-7 is not just a group of wealthy nations. It is also a group of battle-tested allies. They’ve all been involved in Afghanistan (even Japan, with logistics support), Iraq and the Defeat-ISIS Coalition. They’re tough.

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So, they also coped with their third looming fear: how US-China trade tensions may affect economic growth.  All the G-7 have seen slightly slowing in GDP growth. Many have high debt burdens. As Boris Johnson said, they like “trade peace.” But the G-7 also recognized China’s got to be dealt with.

There was Macron on Monday, calling out China’s intellectual property theft, trade dumping and currency manipulation. The solid front on China was the third big win in Biarritz. With China’s assault on rules and freedom and Russia’s aggression, the G-7 is needed more than ever.

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Round it out with agreements on digital taxation, the imminent major trade deal with Japan, and money raised for helping fight fires in the Amazon. Biarritz was one heck of a road trip.

If Macron pulls off a Trump-Rouhani meeting, that’s going to put the G-7 in the history books.  Truly, it’s a valued forum that these top economic and military powers don’t want to give up.

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