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Trump Wants Russia Back In The G-7, But Several Senators Say It Doesn't Belong


President Trump wants Russia back in the group of leading democracies, the G-7, which used to be called the G-8. But today, several senators wrote to Trump saying Russia doesn't belong. Other members of the G-7 agree. But Trump has been consistent and persistent on readmitting Russia, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Trump likes to blame his predecessor for the fact that Russia was kicked out of the Group of Eight. He says Russia outplayed President Obama by annexing Crimea.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: President Obama was not happy that this happened because it was embarrassing to him, right? It was very embarrassing to him, and he wanted Russia to be out of the - what was called the G-8. And that was his determination. He was outsmarted by Putin. He was outsmarted. President Putin outsmarted President Obama.

KELEMEN: That's not how the other G-7 leaders see it, though. Here's Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking yesterday in France.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: The G-7 is a gathering of like-minded nations that have committed to moving forward in a positive way for the global economy. And Russia's actions, both in Ukraine and in other ways, have clearly made it not eligible for partnership in this group of like-minded countries.

KELEMEN: Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, says the reasons Russia was disinvited in the first place remain valid today. And he points out that Russia continues to take provocative steps, including in Ukraine.


DONALD TUSK: It would be better to invite Ukraine as a guest, of course, to the next G-7 meeting to hear the opinion of the new president.

KELEMEN: That's not a bad idea, says a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, but he's not sure everyone would agree. Trump is hosting the next summit and wants to improve relations with Russia. On one level, Pifer says, he understands that.

STEVE PIFER: But what the president never says is that in order to get to that place, you need to have Russia change some of its policies. I mean, we can't have a good relationship with Russia if it's going to continue invading its neighbors, interfering in Western elections, you know, going to Britain and trying to assassinate, you know, former security officers with poison.

KELEMEN: Senate Democrats who lead the Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Intelligence Committees argue in a letter to Trump that Russia's bad behavior has continued in the past couple of years. Until Russia behaves like a responsible actor, they write, President Vladimir Putin should not be readmitted to the Group of Eight.


TRUMP: It should be the G-8.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

KELEMEN: Russian state television tallied up all the times Trump said recently that he wants Russia back. Pifer, who is now with Stanford University, says this video montage looked like a joke.

PIFER: And they were keeping score. Oh, there's one time, there's two times and it was almost, I thought, in a mocking way.

KELEMEN: All this comes as two senators on the Foreign Relations Committee say Russia is denying them visas to travel to Moscow. Democrat Chris Murphy says while he's been a critic of the Kremlin, he believes it's important to maintain a dialogue. Republican Ron Johnson says he was hoping to talk with Russian parliamentarians to set the stage for better future relations. Russia's embassy suggested this may be tit for tat, saying it's been calling on the U.S. to lift travel restrictions on some Russian lawmakers.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.