Trump insists all is well at G7, even as disputes boil

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(CNN) — President Donald Trump says all is well at the Group of 7 summit, which gets underway Sunday on France's Atlantic coast.

But there is evidence of rancor behind the scenes. American officials are griping the yearly gathering is being orchestrated to isolate Trump. And trade disputes are spilling into the open -- even with a new friend — as leaders huddle to discuss a flagging global economy.

It was a barbed beginning to the G7, summits that ordinarily proceed with friendly displays of partnership and bonhomie. Even an impromptu lunch Saturday between Trump and his host, Emmanuel Macron, appeared to be an attempt by the French President to corner Trump into a discussion of climate change and trade.

Trump insisted the meal was their best meeting ever. But afterward, American officials complained the session materialized without warning and amounted to a first attempt by Macron to mold his summit around issues that will divide Trump from other leaders.

Far friendlier was a Sunday morning breakfast with Boris Johnson, the newly installed British prime minister in whom Trump sees a more natural ally.

"You know who this is?" Trump asked reporters, gesturing toward Johnson, as the men descended a grand staircase at Trump's hotel. "He's going to be a fantastic prime minster."

Later, over a meal of scrambled eggs and veal sausage, Trump acknowledged he was more aligned with Johnson than his predecessor in Downing Street, Theresa May.

"He needs no advice. He's the right man for the job. I've been saying that for a long time. It didn't make your predecessor happy," Trump said.

"You're on message there," the enthusiastic prime minister replied.

In Johnson, Trump has at last found a leader of a major US ally with whom he is politically aligned, in style if not substance.

His breakfast meeting with the British Prime Minister was the highlight of the G7 agenda for Trump, who has been looking forward to finding a partner amid tensions with other nations over trade and foreign policy.

Together, Trump hopes he and Johnson can counter what he views as the left-leaning agendas of other European leaders, according to US administration officials.

Open differences

Still, Trump remains deeply unpopular across Europe, including in the UK. And similarities in style don't necessarily reflect deep policy agreements, except on the issue of Brexit.

That was in evidence Sunday as Trump claimed during his breakfast that he'd heard no complaints about the trade tiffs.

"I haven't heard that. I think they respect the trade war. It has to happen," Trump said.

Johnson was quick to correct him.

"Just to register a faint, sheeplike note of our view on the trade war: we're in favor of trade peace on the whole," he said. "We think that on the whole, the UK has profited massively in the last 200 years from free trade and that's what we want to see. So, that's what we're keen to see. We don't like tariffs on the whole."

It was an early sign of what was to come at the G7: leaders nearly uniformly opposed to Trump's tariff regime, which has been blamed for dragging down economies and throwing equity markets into turmoil.

Trump sought to dispel the notion on Sunday that he was feuding with his G7 counterparts, despite their open differences on his use of tariffs or his environmental record.

"Before I arrived in France, the Fake and Disgusting News was saying that relations with the 6 others countries in the G-7 are very tense, and that the two days of meetings will be a disaster," he wrote on Twitter. "Well, we are having very good meetings, the Leaders are getting along very well, and our Country, economically, is doing great - the talk of the world!"

That ray of optimism was belied by complaints from US officials that the summit was being orchestrated by its French hosts to highlight issues that benefit the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and demonstrate Trump's isolation.

"The G-7 is in danger of completely losing its way," Trump's chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal as leaders were gathering at the elegant Biarritz resort.

Second thoughts on dispute

Other American officials traveling with the President said they believed Macron was intentionally adding sessions to the summit that are meant to pit Trump against his fellow leaders.

Trump himself had griped before the summit that like past gatherings, the G7 was overly focused on issues like plastics in the ocean and global women's empowerment -- and not the global economy, on which the organization was originally founded.

At the last minute, US officials added a Sunday morning session on the economy in an effort to realign the agenda. But Trump has viewed the added meeting as an opportunity to brag about the American economy -- and his role in it -- to nations where growth is slowing.

That's unlikely to sit well with other leaders, most of whom blame Trump's protracted trade war with China for weighing down their economies.

Even Trump appeared to acknowledge the ramifications of the escalating trade battle, telling reporters he's had his own misgivings.

"I have second thoughts about everything," he said when asked whether he has any second thoughts on the trade dispute.

This story was originally published on CNN.com. "Trump insists all is well at G7, even as disputes boil."