Germany hosts 'difficult' G20 talks on trade, climate
Trump, Putin also met for 1st time in person today
Talks on global trade at the Group of 20 summit proved very difficult and differences on climate change also were clear, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday, as police and protesters clashed throughout the day in the summit's host city of Hamburg.
Merkel told leaders of the G20 economic powers that they must be prepared to make compromises as she worked toward a summit outcome that everyone present could accept.
That is a challenging task at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump's "America First" rhetoric and decision last month to withdraw from the Paris accord to combat climate change have caused widespread concern.
Negotiators "still have a great deal of work ahead of them" to formulate a passage on trade in the summit's closing communiqué, Merkel said after the first day of meetings.
Trade discussions 'difficult'
She added that most participants called for "free but also fair trade" and underlined the significance of the World Trade Organization, though she didn't specify which leaders did not support the trade language.
"The discussions are very difficult, I don't want to talk around that," Merkel said.
The German leader said most summit participants backed the Paris climate accord. Speaking separately, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of "the common engagement which we must take, we must defend, at a moment when it is called in question by certain people."
"It will be very interesting to see how we formulate the communiqué tomorrow and make clear that, of course, there are different opinions in this area because the United States of America regrettably ... wants to withdraw from the Paris accord," Merkel said.
Merkel resists 'G19' statement
Germany has been keen to preserve the G20's tradition of making decisions by consensus. Merkel has rejected calls from some to push for a strong "G19" statement — without the U.S. — on climate change.
Opening discussions earlier in the day, Merkel told fellow leaders that there are "millions of people following us with their concerns, their fears and their needs, who hope that we can make a contribution to solving the problems."
"We all know the big global challenges, and we know that time is pressing," she said. "So solutions can only be found if we are prepared to compromise ... without, and I say this clearly, bending ourselves too much out of shape. We can of course also name differences."
The leaders did make a joint statement on fighting terrorism, an issue on which there are few differences. They called for ensuring that there are "no 'safe spaces' for terrorist financing anywhere in the world" and pledged to work with internet providers and app administrators to combat the web's use for terror propaganda and financing.
North Korean threat discussed
Merkel noted that the countries at the summit represent two-thirds of the world's population, four-fifths of the globe's gross domestic product and three-quarters of world trade.
The G20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, France, Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Also attending are the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Guinea, Senegal, Singapore and Vietnam.
Merkel said the threat posed by North Korea's missile tests was brought up at Friday's meetings by the leaders of South Korea and other countries in the region, and all hoped that "the UN Security Council will find an appropriate answer" to Pyongyang's violation of UN resolutions.
Trump meets Putin
The summit was also a forum for a flurry of bilateral meetings, including Trump's first encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a two-hours-plus meeting, Trump and Putin had a "robust and lengthy" discussion about Russia's interference in the U.S. electoral process, though Putin denied involvement, said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. His Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said Trump had accepted Putin's assurances that Russia didn't meddle in the U.S. election — a divergent description of the conversation that illustrated each country's effort to show its leader had held his ground.
"I think the president is rightly focused on how do we move forward from something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point," said Tillerson, who took part in the meeting along with Lavrov.
Trump's decision to raise the issue directly with Putin fulfilled ardent demands by U.S. lawmakers of both parties that the president not shy away from the issue in his highly anticipated meeting with Putin. Trump has avoided stating unequivocally in the past that Russia interfered, even as investigations proceed into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russians who sought to help him win.
Clashes between police, activists
Outside the security cordon around the downtown congress centre, anti-globalization activists set dozens of cars ablaze and tried unsuccessfully to block national delegations from entering the summit.
Hamburg police say 196 officers have been injured during two days of clashes with activists. City officials did not provide a comparable figure for injured protesters.
Hamburg's fire department said Friday that ambulances had transported 60 civilians to the city's hospitals, including 11 people who were severely injured when they fell off a wall after fleeing from riot police.
While most of the thousands of demonstrators convening for the G20 were peaceful, some lit fires Friday night on streets in the city's Schanzenviertel neighbourhood.
In the nearby St. Pauli district, thousands of people danced in the streets to techno and live hip-hop music as the international leaders of the G20 nations listened to a classical concert at the city's philharmonic under heavy police protection.
The city already had boosted its police force with reinforcements from around the country and had 20,000 officers on hand to patrol Hamburg's streets, skies and waterways. Another 900 were called in to cope with the clashes.
Merkel thanked them for their work.
"I have every understanding for peaceful demonstrations," she said. "But violent demonstrations endanger human lives, they endanger people themselves, they put police officers and security forces in danger, put residents in danger, and so that is unacceptable."
With files from Reuters