An unexpected guest, a power lunch and Boris makes a splash
Biarritz — An unexpected guest, a last-minute power lunch and an eyebrow-raising group picture: the Group of Seven (G7) summit in the French surfing resort of Biarritz made waves on several levels.
Here are some of the highlights from the gathering of leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US, as well as a host of other attendees for the 2019 event.
After flying in on Saturday at lunch-time, America’s mercurial leader Donald Trump sat down for a crucial and impromptu lunch with his host, France’s President Emmanuel Macron.
The two leaders sat for two hours face-to-face and without advisers on a patio overlooking the beach at the opulent Hotel du Palais, the venue for the G7 meetings. Both of them said afterwards it was their best meeting.
It appeared to have cleared the air and set the mood after a series of Trump tweets in recent weeks which criticised Macron and threatened tariffs on French wines.
The only false note came afterward, when Trump tweeted to thank @EmanuelMacrone — mangling his spelling and inadvertently referencing a parody account of the French leader. Trump quickly corrected his post.
Boris makes a splash
The summit was Boris Johnson’s first foray into global diplomacy as Britain’s new prime minister, offering plenty of opportunities for his trademark theatrics and off-the-cuff quips.
He came out swinging Saturday, telling his EU partners to drop the Irish border “backstop” for Brexit as EU Council president Donald Tusk warned Johnson could go down in history as “Mr No Deal”.
Johnson retorted that he would not speculate on any “post-Brexit eschatology” — unable to resist speaking about what comes after death with an ancient Greek flourish.
He later found a more congenial partner in Trump, who promised a “very big trade deal” with post-Brexit Britain at a chummy breakfast of veal sausages on Sunday.
Johnson also found the time for a morning swim on the choppy Biarritz beach — all to himself, thanks to the vast security perimeter set up for the summit.
Macron had already shaken up the protocol at this year’s G7 by ditching the usual joint post-summit declaration after the 2018 statement sparked a row between Trump and other G7 members.
But it was the unannounced visit by Tehran’s top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif — the personal target of sanctions by Trump's government — that caused the biggest stir.
Macron hoped his invitation to Zarif would help thaw tensions with the US which ramped up after Trump abruptly pulled out of a landmark 2015 deal on Iran's nuclear programme in 2018.
Trump did not meet Zarif, but later said he would be prepared to meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in the next few weeks, a timetable proposed by Macron.
At a summit, whose stated priority was fighting inequalities, including between men and women, the “family photo” of G7 leaders and their spouses was a reminder of how much work remains to be done.
Underscoring his push to open up the format, Macron did away with the time-honoured G7 leaders’ photo, instead bringing other invited leaders from Egypt, SA, Chile and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
There was just one woman among the leaders — Angela Merkel of Germany.
They were later joined by their spouses clad in chic cocktail dresses, high heels and fine jewellery. Merkel’s husband, who usually ducks out of these events, was nowhere to be seen in contrast.
Thousands of people began converging on southwest France in the days before the G7 for a mass “counter-summit”, but to the relief of French authorities there was very little violence and few arrests.
Under the Alternatives G7 banner, the event drew anti-capitalist activists, environmentalists and other anti-globalisation groups, as well as some of the “yellow vest” protesters who have been protesting against Emmanuel Macron's government starting last November.
As global leaders arrived on Saturday, more than 9,000 protesters walked from the French border town of Hendaye, where many were camped out, to the Spanish town of Irun, the site of the conferences.
In the nearby town of Bayonne on Sunday, several hundred protesters carried upside-down official portraits of Macron seized from town halls across the country.