President Trump kicks off two days of diplomacy at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina on Friday after his abrupt decision to cancel a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin overshadowed the proceedings before they even started.
Trump, who arrived in Buenos Aires late Thursday, barreled into the two-day meeting by announcing via Twitter that he was canceling on Putin over Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian vessels. His agenda Friday will include meetings with the leaders of Argentina, Japan and India, the signing of a revamped trade deal with Canada and Mexico, as well as a number of heavily choreographed group activities for the gathering of rich and developing nations.
Trump tweeted after his arrival: “Arrived in Argentina with a very busy two days planned. Important meetings scheduled throughout. Our great Country is extremely well represented. Will be very productive!”
With his “America First” approach, general distaste for multinational deals and habit of insulting allies, Trump typically gets a mixed reception at global gatherings. Coming into this G-20, he faces a series of diplomatic challenges — most notably whether he can strike an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to ease trade tensions that have rattled financial markets.
Trump’s working dinner with Xi is set for Saturday evening. The American president was originally supposed to see Putin that day as well.
The president canceled on Putin not long after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, revealed he had lied to Congress to cover up that he was negotiating a real estate deal in Moscow on Trump’s behalf during the Republican presidential primary in 2016. The news ensured any meeting with Putin would have put a spotlight on the special counsel’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow during the campaign. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
Trump’s Friday schedule also includes an informal meeting with the prime minister of Australia.
One looming question is whether Trump will have a run-in with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, amid global dismay over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Saudi crown prince must have at least known of the plot. Lawmakers in both parties have called on Trump to, at minimum, avoid the young heir apparent as punishment.
But Trump publicly announced his decision to effectively give the prince a free pass in the name of “America First,” making vastly exaggerated claims of Saudi military contracts and investments in the United States. The president also views Saudi Arabia as a vital counterbalance to Iranian influence in the Middle East.
Asked Thursday why the two had no meeting scheduled, Trump said: “I would have met with him but we didn’t set that one up.”
Trump has repeatedly rankled allies and has played a largely disruptive role on the world stage. He has slapped tariffs on the European Union, pulled the U.S. out of the landmark Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal and suggested he might be willing to pull the U.S. out of NATO if member countries don’t significantly boost their defense spending.