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Trump warns countries not to react to U.S. tariffs, maintains Russia would be ‘an asset’ to G7

WATCH LIVE: Ongoing coverage of G7 summit.

President Donald Trump said during a statement at the G7 summit that re-admitting Russia to a club of industrialized nations would be good for all countries.

Trump says Russia’s return as a member of the Group of Seven would be “an asset.”

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Led by the U.S., the group kicked out Russia in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea and its support for pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine. Trump called for Russia’s reinstatement to the group before he arrived at the annual summit taking place in Quebec.

Trump repeated the call on Saturday, saying “we’re looking for peace in the world.” He says “we’re not looking to play games.”

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Trump says he has not spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a while.

He also issued a stern warning to foreign countries not to retaliate against U.S. tariffs on the imports of steel and aluminum. The president says at the Group of Seven summit: “If they retaliate, they’re making a mistake.”

Trump says he spoke with world leaders about his trade policies and called for the elimination of tariffs, trade barriers or subsidies. He says: “That’s the way it should be.”

The president says the U.S. is “pretty close” to an agreement on the North American Free Trade Agreement and discussing two types of sunset provisions in which any of the countries could leave the deal.

Trump says they will either have a better agreement on NAFTA or two deals involving separate trade deals with Canada and Mexico.

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The president charged into the Group of Seven summit this weekend, at odds with key allies over U.S. tariffs, then set out to defuse tension with friendly banter and offered vague claims of progress in trade talks. But details were scant and clear differences remained at the summit’s midpoint.

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After days of verbal sparring over new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, Trump joined the leaders of major industrialized nations in an idyllic Canadian resort town Friday. On his way to the annual gathering, Trump laid out his fundamental grievance, saying that other countries “have been taking advantage of the United States on trade.”

He injected additional controversy by suggesting that the G7 offer a seat at the table to Russia, which was ousted from the group after it annexed Crimea.

Trump’s recent moves, building on 18 months of nationalist policy-making, leave him out of step with the globally-minded organization and have prompted speculation that the group could fracture into something more like the “G-6 plus one.”

But in meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump stressed his friendships with the allies while continuing to insist he wanted to see changes on trade.

Trump bantered easily with Trudeau, joking that the neighbouring leader had “agreed to cut all tariffs and all trade barriers.” And he emphasized a “good relationship” with Macron, saying they sometimes have a “little test” on trade, but predicting a positive outcome.

Still, the fundamental differences remained clear. Trump again railed against trade deficits with other countries and repeated that he may pursue separate trade deals with Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, while Canada would prefer to renegotiate the three-way deal

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Asked if Trudeau was upset that Trump would be leaving the summit in Canada early on Saturday, Trump joked, “He’s happy.”

READ MORE: Trudeau and Trump joke over trade tariffs as they meet alone during G7

Macron said he and Trump held “open and direct” discussions, adding that he thought there was a way to get a “win-win” outcome on trade, though details remained unclear.

Both sides suggested some progress in NAFTA talks. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said they were “close to a deal,” but added that there was also discussion of shifting to a bilateral deal. A Canadian official said the leaders discussed accelerating the pace of the talks.

Trump showed up late to the summit and will leave early to head to Singapore for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He spent Friday participating in the rituals of the G-7, including the formal greeting by host Trudeau, a group photo in front of the sparkling St. Lawrence River and a working lunch of Arctic char and buckwheat salad.

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Other members of the Group of Seven are Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Germany and Britain. The European Union also attends.

Trump’s relations with the others have hit such a low point that a key question was whether the seven countries can agree on a joint statement of priorities at the conclusion of the meeting. Macron said Thursday on Twitter, “The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be.”

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Trump said Friday he thinks the group will produce a joint statement.

Before arriving at the Quebec summit, Trump injected fresh drama by asking why Russia wasn’t included in the group.

“They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table,” he said.

Russia was ousted from the elite group in 2014 as punishment for President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. In the U.S., special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in a bid to sway the 2016 presidential election in his favour.

The comments drew a mixed response.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the issue “hasn’t been raised around the G-7 table,” though she said there have been “some direct conversations in bilateral meetings.” She added “there are no grounds whatsoever for bringing Russia with its current behaviour back into the G-7.”

In Paris, Macron’s office said such a move wouldn’t make sense and pointed out that the latest country to impose economic sanctions on Russia was the U.S. Italy’s new premier, Giuseppe Conte, tweeted that he agreed with Trump, saying: “Russia should go back into the G-8. In the interest of all.”

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Russia seemed unconcerned. State news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying, “We are putting the emphasis on other formats.”

Over the course of his presidency, Trump has inflamed allies with his isolationist policies, including withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and the international Iran-nuclear agreement.

“The rules-based international order is being challenged, not by the usual suspects but by its main architect and guarantor: the United States,” said European Council President Donald Tusk.