Divisions between Donald Trump and other members of the G7 at the summit in Sicily have become so broad and deep that they may be forced to issue a brief leaders’ statement rather than a full communique, dashing Italian hopes of engineering a big step forward on migration and famine.
With the US president apparently reluctant to compromise with European leaders over climate change, trade and migration, the European council president, Donald Tusk, was forced to admit on Friday that this would be the most challenging G7summit in years and there was a risk of events spiralling out of control.
A draft statement shown to the Guardian reveals Trump wants world leaders to make only a short reference to migration and to throw out a plan by the Italian hosts for a comprehensive five-page statement that acknowledges migrants’ rights, the factors driving refugees and their positive contribution.
The Italian plans – one on human movement and another on food security – were set to be the centrepiece of its summit diplomacy. Italy had chosen Taormina in Sicily as the venue to symbolise the world’s concern over the plight of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa.
It had hoped the summit would end on Saturday with a bold statement that the world, and not just individual nations, had a responsibility for the refugee crisis. Italy is expected to take in 200,000 refugees in 2017; more than 1,300 have drowned so far this year while trying to make the perilous crossing from north Africa.
Trump’s negotiators brought a new brief text of the final communique to a pre-meeting of the G7 on 26 April and said they were vetoing the Italian “human mobility” plan, which had been the subject of careful negotiation for months.
The new text, offered by the US on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, acknowledges the human rights of migrants, but affirms “the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels as key elements of their national security”.
It also asserts the need for refugees to be supported as close to their home countries as possible.
Diplomatic sources said intense talks were under way to rescue some of the Italian agenda on migration.
Italian officials, faced with little option, insisted the brief wording on migration in the draft represented a good compromise and said there was no problem with the Americans. The communique did reference the idea of “upstream” action on the issue – but also supporting legal pathways to return individuals to their country of origin.
In a sign of the immediacy of the refugee crisis, the Libyan coastguard said as many as 20 boats had been spotted off the Libyan coast on Friday carrying thousands of migrants.
Large rescue and interception operations were under way with the help of the Libyan coastguard, fishing and commercial boats and in coordination with the Italian authorities, the navy spokesman Gen Ayoub Qassem said.
“Today is the day of a massive exodus of illegal migrants toward Europe,” he added.
The disagreements between Trump and other world leaders have spread to climate change, trade and food security, revealing the philosophical gulf about how to handle globalisation and security.
One source said that with four leaders attending their first summit – Trump, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the UK and Italian prime ministers, Theresa May and Paolo Gentiloni – the emphasis was being placed on the politicians building a personal bond of trust rather than delivering lengthy communiques.
Speaking at the end of the first day’s formal session, Gentiloni said agreement had been reached on terrorism and Syria, but Trump was holding out on climate change.
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