Like Superman disguised as the mild-mannered Clark Kent, Donald Trump showed his tamer side at the G7 – but the maverick showman expected by the world didn’t take long to burst back out.
Before the summit in France’s Biarritz, speculation was rife over how Trump might blow up proceedings.
At last year’s session in Canada, he withdrew his signature from the closing statement and rowed over trade with host Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
But this time, he largely shelved trade-war threats against his Western allies and announced a stunning pause in his aggressive push on Iran by offering to meet his Iranian counterpart.
Having been seen glowering at previous international events, he beamed during every photo opportunity on the French coast and marvelled at the architecture and organisation.
“Nobody wanted to leave,” said the US president, who could barely stop praising French President Emmanuel Macron.
“You have been a spectacular leader,” he said at their joint press conference closing the three-day affair.
An impromptu lunch – the secret weapon of French diplomacy – appeared to coax forth the New York tycoon’s softer side.
“It was the two of us: no staff, no anything,” Trump said. “We were just trying to impress each other.”
Trump and Macron said au revoir on Monday with a firm handshake that became a hug, then prolonged gripping of hands and a second round of handshaking and hugging.
So where was the usual Donald Trump – the one who likes to shock, confuse or just disrupt the world? Right there all along.
While Macron’s risky bid to bring together Trump and the Iranians was met by calm approval, the US president was his unpredictable self on virtually every other issue.
Early Monday, Trump broke what seemed to be big news by announcing China had told his staff in high-level phone calls that they wanted to resume trade talks.
But with details scant about who placed the calls, Trump later said a news bulletin – in which Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He urged “calm” – had sparked much of his optimism.
It followed confusion the previous day when Trump admitted regrets about the escalating trade war, only to have his spokeswoman announce that his sole regret was not raising tariffs even higher.
Trump also issued another now-routine dismissal of the threat from North Korea’s missile testing, of particular concern to nearby US allies South Korea and Japan.
“I’m not happy about it but then again he’s not in violation of the agreement,” Trump said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who state media said had supervised the test-firing of a “super-large multiple rocket launcher”.
Trump said this while seated alongside fellow G7 member Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “The launch . . . clearly violates the relevant UN Security Council resolutions,” Abe contradicted him.
Trump’s answer? “We are in the world of missiles folks, whether you like it or not.”
Trump attacked as “ridiculous” a report saying he’d repeatedly asked staff about using nuclear weapons to disperse hurricanes – something straight from the “Sharknado” sci-fi disaster movie series.
But he was again isolated from his G7 partners in treating the real-world threat of global warming as fiction.
He missed the summit’s Monday session on climate change. His spokeswoman said he was too busy.
Then, speaking to reporters, Trump rejected cutting US fossil-fuel reliance and ridiculed renewable energy, saying: “I’m not going to lose that wealth . . . on dreams, on windmills”.
Which Trump will appear when it’s his turn to host the G7 in 2020?
He let slip he’d like to stage the event at one of his golf resorts, the Doral, near Miami – a move that would provoke political outrage at home and accusations, yet again, that he likes ripping up the rulebook.
Stirring up geopolitical friction, Trump also went against key G7 members in insisting that Russia’s Vladimir Putin deserves to attend the party. “I’d certainly invite him,” he said.
Russia was kicked out of the G8 after invading and annexing Crimea, a part of Ukraine.
US allies may have enjoyed seeing a more placid Trump on the French seaside. But they’d better brace for more of the other kind too. “Sorry,” he said bluntly, of his volatile style. “That’s how I negotiate.”