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G-20 Hamburg: U.S. Stands Alone On Summit's Key Issues


We're going to start the program today checking in on that meeting in Hamburg, Germany, where the leaders of the world's largest economies, the G-20, is wrapping up. The meeting featured violent confrontations between activists and police. We'll hear more about that later. There was this much-anticipated, much-scrutinized meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. As well, there was a clear sense that unlike in past years, the U.S. stood alone on some of the key issues facing the global community.

We wanted to talk about what was or was not accomplished at this meeting and the significance of meetings like this, so we called Jeffrey Rathke. He served in the U.S. State Department for more than two decades. He's a senior fellow and deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. We reached him at his home office just outside Washington, D.C. Mr. Rathke, thanks so much for speaking with us.

JEFFREY RATHKE: Pleasure to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's start with today's news. Typically at these big meetings, there's a big joint statement. It's called a communique. What was in this one?

RATHKE: Well, at all of these meetings, you have a long statement that comes out. Today's is about 15 pages long. And there's a lot on which leaders succeeded in agreeing, but I think what stands out are the areas where there's disagreement. The most obvious one of those is on climate change, where it wound up being 19 to 1 against the United States with respect to the Paris climate agreement. The United States basically refused to agree to the statement of the other 19 members. So in this communique, you have a kind of - the United States believes statement followed by the other 19 states believe statement.

MARTIN: Were there any other important takeaways for you, I mean, as a person who's a veteran of a number of these big multinational meetings over the years?

RATHKE: Well, meetings like the G-20 are an enormous opportunity diplomatically. You have countries gathered there that represent 65 percent of the world's population, about 80 percent of the world's GDP - depending on how you measure it - and about 75 percent of global trade. So this is an opportunity to make progress on several things at once. And then, of course, you've got the bilateral diplomacy. You've got an opportunity to have all sorts of meetings with other world leaders. President Trump met with not only Vladimir Putin, he met with British Prime Minister Theresa May. He met with the Chinese, the Germans, the Indonesians, the Japanese, the Koreans.

And I think what we've seen from the Trump administration is a very deep ambivalence at best or more accurately probably an antipathy for multilateralism. And that, I think, translates into an inability to articulate a real clear objective for these kinds of meetings. If you're ambivalent about multilateralism, how do you go and engage to get countries like the G-20 to do things that you want them to do? And I think that's why you see not much in the way of an outcome here that advances concrete U.S. interests.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, you know, just on that point, you know, as you said, it's no secret that this president is suspicious of multilateralism and international institutions. He campaigned on a slogan of America first. Are we gleaning anything about either his posture toward these institutions from this meeting or perhaps the international community's response to this stated U.S. desire to go it alone in these key areas? Did we glean anything from this latest meeting about that?

RATHKE: The United States ever since the end of the Second World War has been a leader in international institutions, whether it's the G-7, whether it's the G-20. And it's really striking to see the United States so isolated at an international gathering. I think that's an indicator of reduced U.S. influence and leadership. And what you see happening is the remaining countries working around the United States. That's clearly the case for climate change.

But it's not just what we see in the communique. On the opening days of this meeting, Japan and the European Union announced that they had reached agreement in principle on a free trade agreement which clearly takes the place of the U.S. Trans-Pacific Partnership now in terms of Japan's trade priority. The European Union and Canada have recently concluded a free trade agreement. So you see the train moving forward but without the United States.

MARTIN: That's Jeff Rathke. He's a senior fellow and deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's a career diplomat with more than 25 years of service in the U.S. State Department. He was kind enough to join us from his home office just outside Washington. Jeff Rathke, thank you so much for speaking with us.

RATHKE: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.