Leaders from the world's top economies prepared for tough talks with U.S. President Donald Trump on climate change and trade on Friday as a Group of 20 summit got underway in Germany amid the threat of violent protests.
The meeting in the port city of Hamburg comes at a time of major shifts in the global geo-political landscape, with Trump's "America First" policies pushing Europe and China closer together.
Trump will meet Russia's Vladimir Putin for the first time on Friday afternoon, an encounter that will be intensely scrutinized following allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Moscow meddled in the U.S. election to help Trump win.
The summit also brings together Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a time when Washington is ratcheting up pressure on Beijing to rein in North Korea after it test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile and threatening the Chinese with punitive trade measures.
Amid the big egos and seemingly intractable conflicts, the host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, faces the daunting task of steering leaders toward a consensus on trade, climate and migration — all issues that have become more contentious since Trump entered the White House half a year ago.
Trump's bilateral with Putin was scheduled to take place just 15 minutes after the start of the discussion on climate, a scheduling conflict that could complicate a deal.
"Merkel, as the G-20 host, must not sacrifice ambition for unity. Instead, we need a G19 commitment to climate action that demonstrates the intent to implement and even go beyond what 195 nations agreed to in Paris," said Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace, referring to the climate accord Trump has pledged to leave.
Facing her own election in two months, Merkel met with Trump for one hour at a hotel in Hamburg on Thursday evening to try to overcome differences that envoys have been unable to settle in weeks of intense talks, including a last minute trip to Washington by the chancellor's top economic adviser.
The two leaders shook hands and smiled for the cameras, showing none of the tension that hung over their first two meetings, in Washington in March and on Trump's first trip to Europe in May. After that, the usually cautious Merkel said the United States was no longer a reliable partner and urged Europe to take its fate into its own hands.
"There is quite a delicate balance that Angela Merkel will have to navigate in a way, because it is not clear that being confrontational won't just create even more of a credibility problem for G20 cooperation," Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told Reuters in an interview.
A senior German official involved in the talks said he expected negotiators would be working around the clock to try to break the deadlock before Saturday, the final day of the summit.