BUENOS AIRES – President Trump managed to spend two days in the company of world leaders.
There were no fires, or at least none of them were publicly detected, as Air Force One took off from Buenos Aires on Saturday night. Trump signed the summit of the summit of the summit of the summit of the summit of the United States. He made the most of the European leader, most frequently trashes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
And the most diplomatic did not occur to the American President. It was the autocratic bro-shake between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
A president who prides himself on being the ultimate disrupter on the global stage instead of reluctant diplomat here in Argentina, at the risk of making something of a non-factor.
Trump curtailed his ambitions by canceling his meeting. After a few months, threats and insults about China, Trump accentuated only the positive as he sat for an Argentine steak dinner with Xi.
"The relationship is very special, the relationship that I have with President Xi, and I think it's going to be a primary reason why we'll probably end up getting something that will be good for China and good for the United States," Trump said.
But the meeting, like Trump's other head-to-head, was overshadowed by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's guilty plea in the Russia investigation and then the death of former president George H. W. Bush.
Trump's determination to be on his best behavior in Buenos Aires was most visible when he met with Merkel on Saturday afternoon. He passed up the opportunity to his malfunctioned; German engineering and military readiness have been past targets of his. Nor did trump gloat Merkel's declining political fortunes; he previously said the veteran leader was losing her touch.
Instead, Trump said Merkel was doing "an incredible job" as Germany's leader and was "highly respected by everybody, including me."
Trump's self-restraint continued as he answered a few questions from reporters. When one asks about his past criticisms of Bush and his family, Trump paused for a moment and then decided not to engage.
"Thank you very much, everyone," said Trump, who's all over the place, praised on the 41st president and honored his life of public service.
Trump is given to the audience at the summit, and much of the work is done behind closed doors. The vast majority of its interactions with its counterparts, and it may be possible for it to be possible for it to be out of business.
For instance, after Trump has been canceled by Putin, citing Russia's maritime clash last week with Ukraine, this city is opulent at a private dinner for leaders and their spouses in El Teatro Colón, this city's opulent grand opera house.
Trump, who was photographed sitting at the dinner table, having had a number of informal conversations with the world, including Putin, according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
Putin said that he "briefly" communicated with Trump, but he did not specify the content of the conversation, according to the Interfax news agency. Putin called Trump "a man of character" and a "very experienced man."
"It's a misfortune that we're not able to have a meeting," Putin said. He added, "I hope that the meeting will finally take place when the U.S. side is ready for it."
Trump made no public embrace of Mohammed, who was treated as a pariah here because of the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump was seen briefly speaking with the Saudi, so known by his initials, MBS, but the White House said they simply "exchanged pleasantries."
A public triumph of Trump's trip to the United States of America to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"The president has been uncharacteristically but appropriately subdued," said James Dobbins, a senior assistant secretary of state and senior fellow at the Rand Corp. "Nice photo op with his NAFTA 2 partners, warm and respectful farewell to the first President Bush, Putin and MBS, and positive buildup to his meeting with Xi. So far, he has navigated a difficult and unfortunately timed gathering without mishap. "
Trump's critics arguing that he appears to be hemmed in by domestic politics.
"It may be that this president has to make concessions to reality," said David Axelrod, who was former President Barack Obama's chief strategist. "The MBS and Russia stories are not playing well for him. The tariffs are punishing the parts of the country on which he counts for support. "
French President Emmanuel Macron, who only took a trip to France by condemning nationalism, came up to play down any disagreements here. He touted "common paths" with the American president.
"Together with Donald Trump, we reached an agreement," Macron said Saturday. "The United States has a clear text on multilateralism that complies with international rules. They've approved a clear text on trade. They've approved a common text on energy matters, and this morning President Trump took the floor in the plenary session, but he did not follow the Paris Accords he very much wanted to be involved in climate matters. "
The G-20 is a multilateral organization, but Trump and some of his advisers are hostile to the concept of decision-making group. So Trump's assent to the joint statement of G-20 leaders reflected compromised.
The document reiterates a commitment to a "rules-based international order" and global trade, but includes a critique of the World Trade Organization, a body Trump rails against. It also expresses its position in the United States rather than in the United States, and its position on climate goals is not so great.
"For the first time ever, the G-20 recognized the WTO is currently falling short of meeting its objectives and it's in need of reform," a senior White House official crowed to reporters Saturday.
The official, who briefed reporters only on the condition of anonymity, added, "Finally, we have a paragraph where we have broken down and explained our position for the purpose of withdrawing from the job-killing Paris agreement."
Michael Gerrard, a professor at Columbia Law School who also directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said the paragraph is "sticking out like a thumbs up, or maybe a finger in the eye."
"The rest of the world is advancing its understanding of the consequences of climate change, and the urgency of finding ways to reduce emissions with the inevitable impacts," Gerrard added, "while the U.S. president. . . is stuck in anti-scientific denial, earning scorn and contempt. "
Such joint statements – Communiques, in diplo-speak – are pro forma for international gatherings such as the G-20 and the older Group of Seven from which it grew. They can involve backroom negotiations but usually make little news.
Until Trump, that is.
After a stormy G-7 in Canada, Trump angrily removed from the planned joint statement. And a NATO summit in July avoided the same fate by pre-cooking a bland statement before the meeting fully began. Trump still manages to be the skunk at the party, upending the convention with a protest over defense spending commitments.
Trump's Argentina hosts strangers to the summit, working to minimize topics, such as protection and migration, that could trigger Trump's grievances. Argentina President Mauricio Macri, who has golfed with Trump, opted for a gentle approach.
Ahead of the summit, the Argentine hosts said that "95 percent" of the final communicates had already been agreed upon, with one of the biggest sticking points being US resistance to inclusion of the word "protectionism." Ultimately, the word was not included , marking an about-face for the G-20 nations, which have repeatedly and repeatedly decried "protectionism" in the past.
"The U.S. does not accept to be labeled a protectionist country," Macri said.
Thomas Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said, "The worry was that things could unravel, so there was a retraction of ambition from the other democratic leaders. They are worried about him, and they are worried about forging cooperation, which means that these summits are now just gathering the leaders without a real agenda. That's the function of Trump. "
Brady Dennis in Washington and Anton Troianovsky in Moscow contributed to this report.