President Donald Trump's foreign travels have sometimes led to volcanic clashes with fellow leaders, but when Air Force One touches down in Argentina on Thursday night for a Group of 20 summit, Trump's hosts will be straining to please him.
At a conclave typically devoted to issues of trade and the environment, the Argentines are trying to minimize topics that could trigger Trump's Twitter finger – including protectionism, the Paris climate agreement, and migration. In the declaration issued at the end of the summit – in which leaders sum up their work and set priorities for their underlings – Argentina is working hard to minimize U.S. embarrassment.
Trump's soft landing may be unsurprising in a nation led by President Mauricio Macri, one of his former golfing partners. For leaders around the world, the question will be whether Argentina's gentle approach can be more successful than that of Germany, whose G-20 summit last year in Hamburg was tough and confrontational – and included unusual language in the final declaration that made clear that Trump was isolated 19 to 1 on climate issues.
Just this month, Trump knocked heads with French President Emmanuel Macron during a World War I-themed trip to Paris, punching out sulfurous tweets about France from Air Force One and holding a rancorous phone call with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Argentina, by contrast, has backed Trump's tough line on Venezuela. The Trump administration has supported Argentina's massive $56.3 billion International Monetary Fund rescue plan – a position the Argentines are eager not to jeopardize. In the negotiations, Argentine officials say they have worked to address U.S. priorities. The White House has resisted in a final draft using words considered explosive in the American culture wars – including "protectionism" and "Paris accord." In addition, the Americans have tried to avoid discussing migrants and refugees.
"We're happy to accommodate concerns as we can, and to work toward reasonable wording for consensus," said Pedro Raúl Villagra Delgado, a senior Argentine diplomat and lead negotiator for the G-20 summit. "This can't be a fight against the United States or any other country."
That's not to say controversy can be avoided altogether. Trump may cross paths at the summit with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the first time since Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Istanbul last month. Trump has refused to condemn Mohammed, dismissing a CIA assessment that the crown prince ordered the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist. The embrace of the crown prince puts Trump at odds with several other G-20 nations that have distanced themselves from him, including Canada and Germany. Also ratcheting up the pressure: A prosecutor in Argentina is considering war crimes charges against Mohammed linked to Khashoggi's death and to the Saudi's military intervention in Yemen.
Yet most European leaders are bracing for a different kind of fight over issues including the U.S. trade war with China, which Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will address in a one-on-one meeting during the summit, and Trump's unabated affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin despite the brewing naval crisis between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov.
"We must not allow Europe to be smashed between the new poles of power," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said this week in a foreign policy speech in Berlin. " 'Europe united' describes the path we have taken, a way forward."
European leaders – many of whom answer to voters who reward confrontation with Trump – acknowledge Argentina's difficult position, and some say they appreciate their host's effort to calm tensions while preserving tough stances on global warming and other issues that many rich nations still value.
On climate, "it will be language that will convey the same messages" as in Germany last year, said a senior EU diplomat involved in the negotiations, "but there will be much less specific words, by referring to past meetings or to past words." The diplomat spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive closed-door talks.
"Everyone is fully aware that there is a considerable element of unpredictability in this summit, irrespective of all the preparation work that went into this," the diplomat said.
The Europeans, who have sparred with Trump on trade, are bracing for difficult conversations about protectionism and the Trump administration's skeptical stance toward the World Trade Organization. Even on issues surrounding trade with China, on which U.S. and European leaders are largely aligned, some European officials fear that Trump and Xi could work out a deal in their meetings in Buenos Aires that deliver Chinese trade to the United States at Europe's expense.
"Dealing with the American administration is of course a challenge for the whole world, because it's slightly unpredictable and it's governed by tweets," Cecilia Malmström, the top EU official for trade issues, said at a conference in Brussels this week.
Trump and the Argentine leader first met in the 1980s, when Trump and Macri's father – Francisco Macri, an Argentine developer and tycoon – were mired in a real estate deal that ended with Trump purchasing a key parcel of land in Manhattan. Jabs flew at the time between Trump and the elder Macri as they clashed over the deal, while Mauricio Macri – then an adviser to his father – beat Trump on the golf course.
Decades later, Macri would distance himself from Trump during the 2016 presidential race, only to do a dizzying about face after election night. He quickly sought to cultivate a sort of South American special relationship with the U.S. leader, drawing on their past and their parallels as businessmen-turned-outsider presidents. The Argentines privately portray the two leaders as "friends," even though Argentina more broadly has been home for decades to a relatively strong strain of anti-Americanism.
The dynamics of global summits may also be poised for change by the advancement of anti-globalists at the ballot box, further challenging the bloc of liberal democratic leaders in Canada and Europe. For instance, the October election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil, Latin America's largest nation, is set to give Trump an influential new ally on the global stage once the Brazilian takes office next year.
"Trump wants to make America great, and I want to make Brazil great," Bolsonaro said last month.
He has appointed as his foreign minister Ernesto Araújo, a Trump-loving diplomat who has said he wants to help liberate Brazil from "globalist ideology." Bolsonaro is skipping the summit, even though he was invited by Brazil's current president, because he suffered a near-fatal stab wound to the abdomen during the campaign. Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, met Bolsonaro on Thursday and has praised his election.
Coupled with Italy's tilt toward populism, Trump may find that "he is a lot less alone" on the world stage, said an Argentine official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the dynamics of the summit.
The official said that the developing powers at the table this weekend are poised to be more pragmatic about Trump than their European counterparts. One official described those leaders as needing to "play to domestic audiences" in home countries where Trump is considered a pariah. By comparison, developing nations are "more used to unconventional leaders," the official said.
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Marina Lopes in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Quentin Ariès in Brussels; and Emily Rauhala in Washington contributed to this report.
The Washington Post
For Infobae's complete coverage of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina: www.infobae.com/america/g20-summit-2018/