WASHINGTON — President Trump said Friday that Russia should be allowed to rejoin the Group of 7 forum of leading economies, breaking with other leaders of that group who are meeting this weekend in Quebec.
As he left the White House on his way to the G-7 meeting, Trump lamented that Russia was expelled from the global political group in 2014 after it annexed Crimea. The United States, along with its allies, supported Russia's ejection at the time.
"Russia should be in this meeting," Trump told reporters on the South Lawn. "Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting?"
Trump, who arrived in Canada hours later, described himself as "Russia's worst nightmare" but said that "we have a world to run." Trump has frequently discussed his desire to build a better relationship with Russia, but the approach has been scrutinized because of questions about Trump’s relationship with the country prior to the 2016 election.
Special prosecutor Robert Mueller is investigating Russia's involvement in the election, including links to Trump's campaign.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking to a Russian state news outlet, did not say whether his country would rejoin the group if invited. He said that Russia is “focused on other formats, apart from the G7.”
The idea drew bipartisan criticism from Capitol Hill.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement Russian President Vladimir Putin "chose to make Russia unworthy of membership in the G-8 by invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea.
"Nothing he has done since then has changed that most obvious fact," McCain said.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a frequent critic of Trump, called the move “weak.”
“Putin is not our friend and he is not the President's buddy," Sasse said in a statement. "He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America, and our leaders should act like it.”
Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., accused Trump of "turning our foreign policy into an international joke."
Trump's remarks were the latest show of disunity between the U.S. and the other six nations meeting at a resort on the Saint Lawrence River this weekend. Trump was already expected to face tense meetings following his decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum from those countries.
The meeting is getting under way a day after the president engaged in a Twitter spat with summit participants and announced he would leave the gathering before it is over. The U.S. is meeting with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom at the summit.
“Looking forward to straightening out unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries,” Trump posted on Twitter early Friday. “If it doesn’t happen, we come out even better!”
On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested the group could move forward on agreements without the United States, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “American jobs are on the line because of his actions.” Both countries have joined others in threatening retaliatory tariffs.
In response, Trump posted on Twitter that Trudeau was “being so indignant” and said that both leaders were failing to make note of higher trade barriers they have leveled against U.S.-made products.
“Canada charges the U.S. a 270% tariff on Dairy Products!” the president tweeted Friday. “They didn’t tell you that, did they? Not fair to our farmers!”
The White House said late Thursday that the president would leave the summit on Saturday morning.
By doing so, Trump will skip meetings on climate change, energy policy and oceans. He’ll leave Canada to head to Singapore, where he's scheduled to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a historic summit next week.
Trump returned to his concerns about global trade as he left the White House on Friday, saying the U.S. would terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement if it is unable to negotiate a better deal.
"If we’re unable to make a deal, we’re better off," Trump said. "I think we’ll probably very easily make a deal. All of these countries have taken advantage of the United States on trade."