Foreign ministers from most of the world’s leading powers are heading to a diplomatic summit of the Group of 20 industrialized and emerging economies in Germany, with all eyes on the new US Secretary of State for clues about the direction Washington will take over the next four years. At the talks tomorrow and Friday in the western city of
Bonn, US allies are seeking reassurances from Rex Tillerson that the administration of US President Donald Trump won’t ditch a decade of close cooperation among G-20 nations on climate change, international development and the global economy.
Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, meanwhile, are looking to gauge the man they’ll be dealing with on some of the more sensitive areas of foreign policy in the coming years — including conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and nuclear disarmament. “The issue for any country that’s not America is to try
and flesh out what Trump means by ‘America first,'” said Christopher Smart, a fellow at the Chatham House think tank and former Obama administration adviser on international economic affairs.
A shift away from multilateral diplomacy could see US allies pitted against each other in a bid for Washington’s attention, opening up new battle lines. At the same time, smaller countries could be left to pick up the cost of financing international organizations — as well as the burden of behind-the-scenes negotiations — previously shouldered largely by the State Department. So far, Tillerson has struck a more moderate tone than Trump, suggesting a desire for continuity rather than a radical break with the past, Smart said.
How that will work in practice, and who genuinely has the new president’s ear, is something diplomats will be trying to find out both in the summit’s two working sessions and during a flurry of bilateral meetings at a German government guest house on a mountain overlooking the River Rhine. “Russia would be a very interesting conversation to hear,” said Smart, noting that the G-20 meeting comes days after Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned over his contacts with Moscow.
This week’s talks are also seen as a dress rehearsal for Germany’s hosting of the G-20 leaders in Hamburg on July 7-8, which Trump has said he’ll attend. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to downplay differences with Trump — who called her refugee policy “a total disaster” — by stressing Berlin’s willingness to cooperate with his administration. Earlier this month, she sent her foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, to Washington to meet with Tillerson within hours of his Senate confirmation.