This was an unusual G-20 summit inasmuch as one member—the United States—for the first time rejected some basic premises of the organization, namely the commitment to globalization, free trade and to combat climate change. In the end, the final communique reflected a line-up of 19 +1 on climate issues, with the U.S. as the outlier because of President Trump’s commitment to promote hydrocarbons. Nevertheless, the United States and the rest of the G-8 agreed that steps should be taken to reduce some trade imbalances. Yet most G-20 members are wary of the protectionist instincts of the new U.S. president, especially on steel production and exports.
The main focus inside the United States was the meeting with President Putin, which lasted over two hours, much longer than anticipated. There was great anticipation about what this first meeting might produce, given President Trump’s consistent praise for President Putin throughout the campaign and since his election. Resumption of relations has been delayed by the domestic debate in the United States about Russia’s actions during the 2016 election campaign.
It turned out to be a productive meeting in which most of the major issues between the United States and Russia were raised, discussed and over which there was agreement to begin talks on a number of key issues. These include achieving a ceasefire in Syria and creating safe zones; launching a working group to explore an agreement on cyber rules of the road; and seeking a settlement in Ukraine. (The United States has just appointed Ambassador Kurt Volcker as special envoy for Ukraine, and he will negotiate with Russia).
First Putin-Trump Meeting: The Exploration of a Compartmentalised Relationship
After very anticipated first Russian and US presidents' meeting, James Sherr, Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) told valdaiclub.com that both sides used this opportunity to underline the importance of Moscow-Washington relationship and direct contacts between two presidents, in particular.
All of these issues have preoccupied U.S-Russian relations for the past three years and it has been difficult to achieve progress on them. But the important result of this first presidential encounter is that bilateral dialogue has been re-established. Relations had sunk to an unprecedented low at the end of the Obama administration, and, given the stakes involved, it was important to resume channels of communication.
There are a number of pressing issues confronting the two countries, including the threat of international terrorism and questions of the future of nuclear arms control and non-proliferation regimes. Given today’s global problems, the G-20 members understand that it is important for the United States and Russia to seek to improve ties. So, although President Trump may have been the outlier at the G-20 meeting, the Trump-Putin meeting represented the beginning of a process of defusing some of the tensions that have contributed to the current global uncertainty.