Air Force One touched down at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy, at 10:59 p.m., after a relatively smooth evening flight from Brussels.
National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who is expected to attend some portions of the G7 Summit with President Trump, gaggled with your pool aboard Air Force One. He began with an overview of the schedule over two days at the G7 Summit and laid out his thoughts bout the major issues on the table. Then he took questions. What follows is a rough transcript of the gaggle, which lasted about 18 minutes. (Special thanks to co-pooler Mark Landler for assisting with the transcription.) Only things in quotation marks are actual quotes; otherwise it is paraphrased.
"The president has already met with all of the G7 leaders one-on-one. He actually met with the last one today, from France, Macron, so he's got a personal relationship with all the G7 leaders. So the G7 is set up to be more of an ad-hoc session where the leaders get together and they listen and talk to each other. There is a formal agenda."
Cohn laid out the agenda:
First session on Friday: Foreign policy and role of the G7, including terrorism and Syria
Second session on Friday: Foreign policy, including Libya, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and cyber
Third session on Friday: Global issues, including global economy, trade, climate innovation and energy
Saturday morning session: The host country (Italy) invites an outreach region (Africa), so small nations of Africa will be represented. Trump will be seated between the leaders of two African nations (Niger and Tunisia). The discussion is expected to focus on emerging markets and other pertinent issues.
Second session on Saturday: Global issues, including migration, food security and gender
Third and final session on Saturday: Closed meeting, just the seven heads of state, free form and with no official transcript
"The big topics: Obviously we've been sort of talking about the big topics as we've been on the trip. A lot is going to come up on terrorism. Terrorism is going to be a very big topic. It's going to lead off. Obviously Theresa May and the president are going to have a lot to say about terrorism, terrorism financing, starting out with our trip in the Middle East, talking about terrorism, terrorism financing, Israel, where it can continue on that theme."
"As you know, Rex Tillerson has been working on an agreement out of the Middle East to put together funding to fight terrorism, so we're going to continue to push that with the G7 countries. It would be great to get the Middle Eastern countries, the G7 countries, then potentially G20 countries that aren't part of G7 and the Middle East, onto a terrorism agreement so we can get all the major companies funding to fight terrorism."
"We're going to go into cyber, which is part of the same terrorism game, just a different way to play it."
"It's going to lead into immigration-migration, because that's a big issue. Italy's the host country...They're going to talk about migration, what's going on from Libya to Europe, what's going on in other parts of Europe and the migration from Italy up to the north. Every country in Europe has a migration issue, they have an employment issue."
"Theresa May made a big statement in the NATO conference today that they're leaving Europe but they're not leaving the European community. She went out of her way to talk about she's part of the European defense forces and they're going to be mutually aligned with Europe on many, many things. And economic growth are inextricably interchanged."
"Europe as a whole, the G7 as a whole, when you look at GDP and you look at growth, the U.S. is the leading growth engine of the G7. And we're not that happy about where we are on growth. The president ran on a platform of more economic growth, more jobs, better recovery, but we are the shining light when you look at the other countries. We've got countries in the G7 with GDP as low as sort of a half a percent. So there's going to be a large discussion on stimulating economic growth, which is going to lead us to trade."
"Trade is going to be a big topic. We are going to continue to fight for what we believe is right, which is free, open and fair trade, which the president has been very clear on what that means. We will have a very robust discussion on trade and we will be talking about what free and open means. What the president means by free and open is, we will treat you the way you treat us, meaning if you don't have barriers to trade or you don't have tariffs, we won't have tariffs. If you have tariffs, we should have tariffs. Our objective is not to create tariffs in the United States. Our objective is to get other countries that restrict our goods from going in to get rid of, to lower their tariffs down to where our levels our. That's our objective is to level the playing field, flatten the playing field, and let it be fair for everyone to compete on a level playing field."
"Climate will also come up – how climate affects trade, how climate affects manufacturing. The president has told you that he's going to ultimately make a decision on Paris and climate when he gets back. He's interested to hear what the G7 leaders have to say about climate. It will be a fairly robust discussion on that. We know that because we had it today with the French president, we had it with the Belgians, we had it with all the bilaterals we've had. Paris has come up so we know that that will come up some more in the discussions."
Q: On climate, how much stock will Trump put into what foreign leaders advise him?
"The G7, the unique thing about it, and I actually think the president's going to like this a lot because he knows everyone, he has a great relationship with the leaders in there, it's time for him to have an intimate discussion and understand their issues, but more importantly for them to understand our issues. Our issues of, we've got to get the American economy growing again, we've got to get American workers back into better jobs, we've got to grow the middle class. We've heard from every business that's come to the White House that we've got to get better jobs. We've got to get rid of regulation that's hindering growth. We've got to improve taxes. We've got to improve our infrastructure. But also climate plays into that and the president understands that as a businessman. So he wants to do the right thing for the environment. He cares about the environment. But he also cares very much about creating jobs for American workers. He wants to hear what the Europeans have to say about that."
Q: Is President Trump hearing arguments that are persuasive, one way or another?
"I think he's heard arguments that are persuasive on both sides. They're both good arguments. The one argument that's probably the most persuasive, and don't read too much into this, is that the last levels we put out in the Paris agreement were levels that would be constraining to our economic growth. So that's something that the president knows and I think we all agree with. Then you get into the whole discussion on Paris – is it non-binding? Is it not non-binding? Can you change your levels? How easy is it to change your levels? Japan did change their levels after Fukishima. They went up in their levels. So there's a whole discussion about levels and can you change them or not. We know that the levels that were agreed to by the prior administration would be highly crippling to the U.S. economic growth."
Q: Terrorism question, worried about problems in the relationship because of what Theresa May has been saying?
"We know how important the UK is to us, and Theresa May knows how important the United States is to her."
"The president has pledged to do whatever he can to help them out in whatever fashion."
Q: Will Russia come up?
"Russia will come up, I'm sure China will come up, all of those major economic discussions will come up."
"The discussion on sanctions and Russia came up at NATO tonight. It was a pretty broad discussion with a lot of the NATO talking about Russian sanctions."
Q: What is the U.S. position on Russia sanctions?
"I think the president is looking at it. Right now, we don't have a position."
"He's got many options."
Q: Is Trump looking at lifting sanctions?
"I did not say that; I said he's looking."
Q: Will Iran come up?
"I don't know if that will be a topic"
"It's not in any part of the agenda right now, but the uniqueness of the G7 is that the agenda doesn't matter."
"I would not be surprised if they ended up taking two sessions and talking about terrorism and cyber."
"If they decide to spend all morning on that, no one is going to stop them."
Q: Did the U.S. express concern about Brexit costing U.S. jobs?
"I don't recall that…I don't think it is…depending on how certain service jobs go, they could move to the US"
Asked how Erdogan was received at the NATO meeting, Cohn said he did not know.
Q: What arguments did Macron and others make to Trump in their meetings about climate?
"The Europeans, as a whole, are pretty much in favor of the Paris accord, but the Europeans as a whole have a much easier standard to abide by than the standard we were left with by the previous administration"
"If you look at everyone's standards are, and what their baseline was, it's literally to interpret what you have to do to abide it is very difficult."
"It's a real unlevel playing field"
"Look, we believe in the environment, too. We believe in clean air. We believe in clean water."
"It's not that we don't believe in that, but we also believe in economic growth"
"We believe in bringing manufacturing back to the United States, so we have to balance that."
Q: Is there value in the argument that the U.S. should keep a seat at the table in Paris?
"There's always merit in both sides of an argument, that's why there's arguments."
"There is discussion about having seats at the table. There's discussion about growing our economy."
"If those things collide, growing our economy is going to win. The president ran on growing our economy, sort of the No. 1 issue: clean the swamp and grow the economy."
"If we have a 3%-plus GDP three years from now, everyone's going to think the president is doing a great job"
"We're not going to pollute the air to do that. We're not going to be rampant polluters."
He says that the energy mix in the US is changing
"Cal doesn't even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock. Natural gas, which we have become an abundant producer, which we're going to become a major exporter of, is such a cleaner fuel."
"If you think about how solar and how much wind power we've created in the United States, we can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly"
"He wants to understand how we can bring back manufacturing, bring back jobs, but still be environmentally friendly, but not have a restriction enforced upon us that makes absolutely no sense, when every other country has a restriction that will not impede their economic growth at all"
"It's all about being fair. The president is all about fairness"
"So if we have an environmental restriction that's unfair to us and not unfair to every other country, he's not going to go with that"
"If every other country wanted to have an unfair restriction, he'd probably go with that"
Asked about Jason Greenblatt's trip to Israel, he said he didn't know.
Q: How does "America First" foreign policy work?
"The president is very concerned about lower and middle income…he's not concerned about upper income"
"When Secretary Mnuchin and I pitched our tax outline, we talked about that. We talked about tax cuts for lower income, we talked about tax cuts for middle income, we talked about job creation."
"This is part of this puzzle…we've got to put this puzzle together…and it's a complicated puzzle."
"We have to get regulation right, we have to get taxes right, we have to get infrastructure right, we have to be competitive in a globalized world"
Q: How do other countries react to it?
"I thought it went over fairly well tonight…let me rephrase that, I thought it went over very well"
"In the NATO meeting tonight, every heard of state spoke about their commitment to get their funding for NATO up to the level where it's supposed to be – when they're going to do it, how they've going to do it"
"That's because the president is making it an issue. For the first time ever, they're feeling, "I have to be an equal contributor to NATO."
"That's a good thing because if they're not an equal contributor, we're a disproportionate contributor, and instead of spending money at home, building roads, building bridges, and doing things for our citizens, we're overly supporting NATO."
"We're happy to support NATO. We want to do it in the proportion we're supposed to do it."