Five things to watch as Trump heads to G-20 in Japan

Five things to watch as Trump heads to G-20 in Japan
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems want tougher language on election security in defense bill Five aides to Van Drew resign ahead of his formal switch to GOP The myth of the conservative bestseller MORE departs Wednesday for Japan, where he will meet with other world leaders at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka.

The confab comes at a time when Trump is juggling several foreign policy challenges. He is simultaneously seeking a trade deal with China, corresponding with North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnWashington braces as North Korea deadline looms North Korea is everybody's problem, so Trump must change his approach North Korea conducts 'crucial test' from rocket launch site MORE amid a stalled push for denuclearization and facing the specter of a conflict with Iran. Each topic is sure to come up during the two-day summit.

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Trump will meet formally with the heads of state of Australia, Japan, India, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China.

Here are five things to watch when Trump attends the G-20.

 

Can Trump make progress on a trade deal with China?

All eyes will be on Trump's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, as its outcome could have ripple effects on the global economy.

The two sides have attempted for months to broker a comprehensive trade deal that addresses intellectual property rights, enforcement mechanisms, tariffs and other barriers to commerce. With talks stalling in recent weeks, the bilateral meeting represents an opportunity to get things back on track.

"The goal here, as the president has said many, many times, and I’m sure he’ll make clear again, is that the purpose of these discussions is to rebalance the economic relationship in a way that protects U.S. economic prosperity and workers," a senior administration official said.

But Trump has made clear he's in no hurry to get a deal, blaming the Chinese for the recent breakdown in talks and indicating he's comfortable using tariffs for leverage.

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As a result, any dramatic development or agreement to a final deal at the G-20 would come as a surprise.

"More likely is that they will agree to a truce and to restart talks and, in a time-limited way, try to come to some sort of deal within three months, let’s say," Matthew Goodman, a senior adviser for Asian economics with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told reporters at a recent briefing.

 

Will Trump engage allies on Iran?

The Trump administration has largely opted to go it alone in confronting Iran, withdrawing from the Obama-era nuclear agreement and ratcheting up sanctions on Tehran against the advice of European allies.

The simmering tensions between the U.S. and Iran came to a head last week when Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone. The two sides have disputed whether the aircraft was in Iranian airspace, but the episode nearly led to retaliatory strikes from the U.S.

"This is going to be something that the leaders are going to be pressing the president for clarity and then to get into a unified, allied approach to the challenge, and it’s just simply unclear to me whether we have that policy or that approach," said Heather Conley, director of the CSIS Europe Program.

The Trump administration announced fresh sanctions on Monday targeting Iran's supreme leader and other top officials. Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinMnuchin, Lighthizer deny WSJ reporting on tariff negotiations with China: 'It did not happen' The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline MORE said the administration did not consult with allies on the move.

Japan, the host of this weekend's summit, has in recent weeks attempted to serve as a mediator between the U.S. and Iran. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to Tehran to meet with Iranian officials, who have shown little interest in speaking with Trump.

A Japanese official said Abe is "seriously concerned" about the increasing tensions with Iran, particularly after two oil tankers were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz. The official noted that Japan relies on the region for energy security, making stability even more critical.

 

What will a Trump-Putin meeting deliver?

Trump will meet Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinA contradiction at the heart of the American system Impeachment nears: What would John McCain have done? Senate confirms Trump's Russia ambassador MORE face-to-face for the first time since special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE concluded his nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

A senior administration official said there's "no formal agenda" for the meeting, but that Syria, Ukraine, Iran and arms control are among the subjects likely to be discussed.

Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" whether he would directly confront Putin on the issue of election interference, Trump said, "I may."

Mueller's report concluded that Russia engaged in a concerted effort to interfere in the 2016 election, but investigators did not establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

The president faced significant bipartisan backlash last year after a summit in Helsinki where he said Putin strongly denied that he was involved in election interference and undercut the U.S. intelligence community.

Trump has repeatedly asserted both that no president has been tougher on Russia and that he believes the U.S. would benefit from an improved relationship with Moscow.

 

Will there be any movement on North Korea?

Trump will follow his stay in Japan with a stop in South Korea to meet with President Moon Jae-in.

Moon and Japan's Abe have been two of Trump's closest allies in seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But talks have stalled after a second summit between Trump and North Korea's Kim ended in March without any progress.

A senior administration official said there are no plans for Trump to meet with Kim while he is in Seoul.

Even as North Korea has resumed missile launches and taken no steps to abandon its nuclear arsenal, Trump has remained confident about where things stand between the two nations.

While in Japan last month, the president said he was not bothered by the recent tests, which national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonSchumer asks McConnell for Mulvaney, Bolton to testify in impeachment trial The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial MORE and U.S. allies have said violated a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Trump and Kim have exchanged letters in the months since.

"It was actually a happy birthday letter if you want to know the truth, it was my birthday," Trump told The Hill in an exclusive interview on Monday. "And he sent me a beautiful letter, happy birthday, which was nice. Very nice."

 

Can Trump remain focused on the G-20?

Trump's foreign trips have a tendency to be overshadowed by controversial tweets, statements or interviews.

Last time he was in Japan, headlines were dominated by his repeated attacks on former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden, Sanders lead Democratic field: poll Schumer asks McConnell for Mulvaney, Bolton to testify in impeachment trial Nadler: Giuliani trip to Ukraine shows 'crime in progress' is being committed against American democracy MORE in which he sided with Kim.

There will be plenty of fodder for Trump back home while he meets with world leaders, as the first Democratic primary debates are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday night.

The president will be traveling during the first debate, and Osaka is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time in the U.S., meaning the prime-time events would air in the morning in Japan.

Trump told The Hill in the interview on Monday that there could be "curiosity" among the public to tune in to see the Democratic field, but quickly criticized the group of potential challengers.

"I’m looking for nothing in that debate," Trump said. "I guess it’s really a big race to who can give away the most and who can raise taxes the most."

On Wednesday, Trump said he will watch the first Democratic presidential primary debate while traveling to Japan, calling it a "very unexciting group of people."

"Everyone said I'll be tweeting. I’ll actually be in a plane, and it just seems very boring, but I’m going to watch it because I have to," Trump said on Fox Business Network.