By Karen DeYoung and Philip Rucker,
TAORMINA, Italy — President Trump failed to commit to remaining within the Paris climate agreement during a two-day meeting with world leaders that ended here Saturday, but tweeted that he was still considering it and would announce a final decision “next week.”
In a final communique, the Group of 7 industrialized countries said that the United States “is not in a position to join the consensus.” The other six members reaffirmed their commitment to swiftly implement the 2015 accord to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The G7 summit marked the last stop of Trump’s first overseas trip, a grueling, nine-day tour that included high level discussions in the Middle East and NATO, as well as a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
After leaving this picturesque town on the rugged Sicilian hillsides, Trump helicoptered to the U.S. Naval Air Station at Sigonella on the island to board Air Force One for the flight home. He summed up his journey in a rousing, campaign-style speech to assembled U.S. service members at the base promising it would pave the way for “a lot of strength” and “a lot of peace.”
“From Saudi Arabia to Israel to NATO to the G-7, we made extraordinary gains on this historic trip to advance the security and prosperity of the United States, our friends and our allies,” Trump said. “And we paved the way for a new era of cooperation among the nations of the world to defeat the common enemy of terrorism.”
Trump reflected on how many places he had visited, saying “we have been gone for close to nine days…and I think we hit a home run, no matter where we are.”
Earlier, in an off-camera press briefing for reporters, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said of the climate discussions: “We’re all trying to get to the right place, respectful of each other.” He described a “very robust conversation…a lot of give and take” in discussions that included leaders from Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Canada and Italy.
Asked if Trump had given a sign of which way he was leaning on the accord, which he called a job killer and vowed to rip up during his campaign, Cohn said “I don’t know.”
After a first round of meetings Friday, Cohn, who favors retaining the agreement, said Trump’s position was “evolving.”
White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who briefed reporters along with Cohn, said Trump had “delivered on all three” of his core objectives for the trip: reaffirming American global leadership and alliances, solidifying “key relationships” with world leaders, and bringing a message of tolerance and unity against terrorism to Muslims, Jews and Christians.
Both McMaster and Cohn refused to respond to questions about Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, the subject of a new controversy roiling Washington after a Washington Post story revealed he had a discussion with the Russian ambassador to the United States about the possibility of establishing a back-channel line of communications with Russia.
“I’m not prepared to talk about it,” McMaster said, adding that he and Cohn were only briefing the media about Trump’s trip.
Recounting what they described as successes over the past week, they noted pledges by Arab countries — made during Trump’s first stop in Saudi Arabia — to step up their coordination in the fight against terrorism, including a renewed crackdown on militant financing coming from their countries, and to “end” destructive Iranian activity in the region.
Sunni Saudi Arabia, McMaster said in a comment that may roil the Shiite minority that comprises about 15 percent of Muslims, as well as other Sunni Muslim allies, is “America’s strongest partner in the Muslim world and arguable…the strongest Muslim voice.”
Cohn spoke of the most “amazing deals that have really been made by an administration ever” that Trump had clinched in Riyadh, including both private sector investments and arms sales. He put the total at “close to half a trillion” dollars, although the administration initially put the figure at $380 billion and has provided no detail of finalized agreements.
McMaster called “baseless” reports that European leaders were concerned that Trump failed to restate the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the NATO charter during an alliance summit in Brussels. The provision pledges all 28 NATO members to treat an attack against any of them as an attack against all.
“He made a decision not to say it. It was implicit in the speech,” McMaster said of the speech Trump delivered to the alliance, in which he recalled that Article 5 had only once been invoked, following the September 2001 terrorist attack in the United States. “It’s a matter of fact that the United States and the president stand firmly behind our Article 5 commitment,”McMaster said.
McMaster said that “many of the allies” had privately approached him and President Trump to thank him for aggressively pressing NATO members to spend more on defense.
On the climate agreement, Cohn said that he could not say where Trump was in his thinking on the issue. “What you’re asking me to do is tell you what’s inside the president’s mind. I’m not qualified to do that,” said Cohn, who has briefed the president numerous times on the issue and attended the G7 meetings about it.
When asked why Trump had not held a news conference or spoken with reporters accompanying him on his travels, Cohn said Trump had been working “non-stop.” U.S. presidents traditionally hold news conferences when they travel overseas.
“One thing you have to admit,” he said of the president, “since he left last Friday he has put in 14-15-18-20-hour, literally” of work each day.
When it was pointed out that every other leader at the G7 had scheduled a press conference at the conclusion of the meeting, Cohn, who was speaking in front of a television screen on which Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni was speaking to the media, Cohn said, “I’m not sure that’s true.”
Not far from the summit meeting, which was held in a historic monastery-turned-luxury hotel on a cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea, several thousand demonstrators had assembled to march toward police barricades.
One group carried banners objecting to Europe’s treatment of migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Another, calling itself “Women Against Trump,” planned to protest what marchers said was the president’s “sexism.”
By the time the protest march began weaving its way along a narrow, seaside street toward the heavily armed security presence, however, Trump had already left.
Stefano Pitrelli in Sicily contributed to this report.