A speed dating event. That’s how the G20 meeting of leading and developing economies could best be described. And there was one man among the foreign ministers gathered in Bonn who was very much sought after.
The likes of Rex Tillerson, Boris Johnson or Sergey Lavrov did not travel to Bonn, Germany, in order to find the perfect mate. And yet, their schedule came awfully close to looking like a speed dating event. Aides were rushing up and down stairs, and ushering delegates in and out of conference rooms at the World Conference Center in Germany’s former capital.
Everyone’s favorite date was US Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. All eyes were on the Texas businessman turned politician. It seemed as if delegates from countries as different as South Africa and Saudi Arabia were all hoping that Tillerson would clarify what US foreign policy under President Trump will look like.
A business-like meeting with Lavrov
Among the many meetings Tillerson had behind closed doors, one stood out in particular: the encounter he had with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Remarks by Lavrov suggested that the two men had seen each other before, but it was certainly the first time they shook hands since Tillerson took office. “The United States will consider working with Russia where we can find areas of practical cooperation that will benefit the American people,” Tillerson told journalists after the meeting, which had addressed conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and Afghanistan – not exactly the kind of clarification many had hoped for after weeks of uncertainty over how close the White House and Kremlin will be working together.
While trying to establish a good working relationship with Lavrov, Tillerson at the same time had to soothe his European counterparts. They fear that the Trump administration is getting too close to Moscow, moving away from Western partners and alliances that have existed for the last seven decades. Tillerson did his best to relieve these doubts, declaring that “the United States remains steadfast in its defense commitments to its allies.” Yet, “difficult” was a word that could be heard in the hallways of the Conference Center to describe US foreign policy. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault bluntly called the the US position on the Middle East peace process “confused and worrying” after meeting Tillerson.
‘Trust is crucial’
“We see worrying tendencies towards protectionism, towards nationalism in the world today,” Dr. Clara Brandi of the German Development Institute (DIE) told DW. “In that context, it is especially crucial to strengthen the basis for trust among world leaders.” She hoped that the G20 meeting would contribute to that, but was skeptical that Sigmar Gabriel, the newly appointed German foreign minister had succeeded in shifting the focus to other issues such as African development and climate change.
Gabriel stressed that the German G20 presidency did indeed view these as key issues for the group. “Climate protection and development policies can contribute more to security around the world than big defense budgets,” Gabriel said at a press conference. In July, the G20 heads of state and government are slated to meet in Hamburg, Germany.
‘Planet Earth First’
A few dozen protesters made their voices heard outside the conference center, calling the G20‘s policies “murderous.” One protester told DW that he thought the whole G20 format was “just wrong.” “The G20 are not representatives of the world. These issues should not be discussed by these governments.”
Greenpeace activists, traditionally seaworthy, set sail on the Rhine River and anchored just opposite the G20 venue. Their message, aimed directly at the US government’s climate policy: “Not America first – Planet Earth First.”