ICBM firing casts shadow on G20 summit

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BERLIN, Germany — US President Donald Trump meets other world leaders at Germany’s G20 summit from Friday, with North Korea’s first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile casting a long shadow over the gathering at the heavily-fortified venue.

The rising global threat posed by Pyongyang is likely to see conflicts over climate and trade take a back seat as regional neighbors China, Japan and South Korea gather with Trump and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin in Hamburg.

“Testing an ICBM represents a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region, and the world,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, confirming North Korea now possessed a weapon capable of reaching US territory.

Russia and China condemned Tuesday’s test and the European Union may consider additional sanctions.

All eyes will be on Trump, who had vowed North Korea’s goal of possessing an ICBM “won’t happen” and has repeatedly pressed China to rein in its truculent neighbor.

Climate change deal

Leaders of the world’s top economies will gather Friday in Germany for likely the stormiest G20 summit in years, with disagreements ranging from wars to climate change and global trade.

The ICBM test is just one of the most volatile issues and disputes to be tackled in the July 7-8 meeting in the northern port city of Hamburg.

Germany has made climate protection a priority of its G20 presidency. It had hoped to get the world’s biggest industrialized and emerging economies to commit to taking the lead in implementing the landmark 2015 Paris climate deal on keeping the global rise in temperatures “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times.

But Trump dashed those hopes after vowing in early June that he would pull the world’s second biggest carbon emitter out of the Paris accord.

Host Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that after Trump’s announcement, she “knew that we could not expect discussions to be easy”.

But she and European allies have vowed to defend the climate pact at the summit, setting them on a collision course with Trump.

Trade war

Signing up to an anti-protectionist pledge used to be routine at G20 meetings, but not this time.

Trump, swept to power by popular anger over deindustrialization in vast parts of the United States, has pledged to “follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American.”

That has put him at odds with many US trading partners, including export giants Germany and China, whom he has criticized over their massive trade surpluses.

Trump’s threats may soon materialize, as Washington is reportedly preparing to impose punitive tariffs on steel imports — something that G20 exporters would be keen to ward off.

The United States in April launched a probe into whether steel imports posed a danger to national security, with the result due within days.

Trump is reportedly waiting to hear from trading partners before announcing his decision on whether to limit imports of the metal.

According to news website Axios, the US leader is leaning towards imposing tariffs as high as 20 percent on the metal — a move that would likely unleash retaliatory measures.

Trump-Putin face-off

In the most anticipated moment of the G20, Trump will meet Putin, the ex-KGB agent accused of having aided, with hackers and fake news, the surprise rise of the property tycoon into the White House.

The moment they shake hands is sure to see “an Olympian level of macho posturing between these two leaders, who both understand the importance of symbolism and the perception of being tough,” said Derek Chollet of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Trump ruffled other leaders at a G7 meeting in Italy in May and has steered the economic and military superpower on an isolationist “America First” course.

His counterparts are bracing for fresh surprises after Trump stunned the world by pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate pact, questioned long-standing NATO allegiances and dismissed free trade principles.

‘Welcome to Hell’

Some 20,000 police will guard the leaders against anti-capitalist protesters who have greeted them with the combative slogan “G20 – Welcome to Hell”.

Up to 100,000 protesters are expected, a diverse group of environmentalists, peace and anti-poverty activists, united in the belief that the global elite is failing to solve the pressing global problems.

“We think that they all deserve our protest and our resistance from the streets,” said one left-wing activist, Georg Ismael, 25.

“We are demonstrating against the G20 because we don’t think that they represent the interests of humanity.” Frank Zeller/AFP

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