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'In-person' G7 more effective, but deal with safety concerns first, Trudeau says


WASHINGTON — Gathering the leaders of seven of the world's largest economies in person would be "much more effective" than the virtual alternative, Justin Trudeau said Wednesday — so long as the United States has a plan to deal with the potential COVID-19 risk.

The notion of G7 leaders attending a physical meeting somewhere between the White House and Camp David, even in the midst of a global pandemic that continues to batter the national capital, began last week as another outlandish sentiment from Donald Trump's Twitter feed.

But an in-person meeting in late June now seems a real possibility — one the prime minister said he's prepared to entertain, as long as the Trump administration takes the necessary steps to ensure public health concerns are properly addressed.

"There are significant health preoccupations that we have around holding an in-person meeting, but there's no question that in-person meetings, in an ideal situation, are much more effective than even virtual meetings," Trudeau said.

"However, there are many questions to answer before we can commit to showing up in person, and those discussions are happening in an ongoing and very constructive way."

Trudeau spoke from outside his home at Rideau Cottage, where he has been modelling stay-at-home behaviour for nearly three months, ever since his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau tested positive for the novel coronavirus back in March.

His U.S. counterpart, meanwhile, has been aggressively urging states to allow people to get back to work and jump-start the stalled U.S. economy. Going ahead with an in-person G7, he said, would send the signal that his country is ready to get back to business — a process Trump has christened America's "transition to greatness."

"The president thinks no greater example of reopening in this transition to greatness would be the G7 ... happening probably more towards the end of June," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told a briefing Tuesday, adding that the same precautions that are taken at the White House would be in place for world leaders.

The meeting is expected to take place at either the White House, the Camp David presidential retreat north of Washington, or some combination of the two. Camp David was also the venue of choice in 2012, when the U.S. played host to what was then known as the G8.

That, however, was the president's second choice. The original plan to host the meeting at the Trump-owned Doral golf resort in Miami was abandoned in October after just 48 hours of Democrats and Republicans alike complaining about the conflict-of-interest optics.

While the original meeting was slated for June 10-12 before the pandemic took hold, the new timeline likely involves a gathering closer to the end of June, White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien told CBS's "Face the Nation" over the weekend.

The fact that the D.C. area currently has the highest rate of positive COVID-19 tests in the U.S. will likely be ancient history by then, O'Brien suggested.

"I think we're getting very close to the peak, if we're not at the peak already, in Washington," he said. "And if the situation permits it — and we think it will — we'd love to have the G7 in person. I think the G7 leaders would love to meet in person and not do a videoconference."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2020.

— Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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