G7 foreign ministers’ summit opposes Russia’s behavior — US official

Published April 23, 2018, 11:51 AM

by Francine Ciasico

By Reuters

TORONTO — Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations were united in opposing Russia’s destabilizing behavior while agreeing to leave the door open for dialogue with Moscow, a senior U.S. official said on Sunday.

Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland is joined by France's Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, U.S. Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, High Representative for the European Union's Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs Angelino Alfano, Japan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono and Minister of Foreign Affairs for Germany Heiko Maas prior to a reception at the Royal Ontario Museum on the first day of the foreign ministers' meetings from G7 countries in Toronto, Ontario, Canada April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland is joined by France’s Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, U.S. Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, High Representative for the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Angelino Alfano, Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono and Minister of Foreign Affairs for Germany Heiko Maas prior to a reception at the Royal Ontario Museum on the first day of the foreign ministers’ meetings from G7 countries in Toronto, Ontario, Canada April 22, 2018. (REUTERS/Fred Thornhill)

The ministers, meeting in Toronto for two days, discussed tensions with Moscow, Iran and North Korea, while also addressing political problems in Venezuela and Myanmar.

“There was G7 unity on opposing Russia’s malign behavior,” the senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters at the end of the first day of meetings in Toronto.

“There was also openness among G7 members to dialogue with Russia while we hold them accountable for their malign activities and their efforts to destabilize nations,” the official added.

The ministers were expected to issue a final statement on Monday that would maintain an uncompromising line with Moscow, two sources familiar with discussions said.

“The language will be tough because of what the Russians have done until now. But it can also be interpreted as leaving the door open,” said one source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

“We are saying to them, ‘If you want to be treated as a great power, then work with us’,” the source said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on Moscow to help resolve the crisis in Syria, where Russia and Iran are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“We know that the Syrian conflict, for example, can’t be solved without Russia. But it must then come up with constructive offers in return,” he told reporters on Sunday.

The Western countries blame Assad for the attack that killed dozens of people. The Syrian government and its Russian ally deny involvement or using poison gas on April 7.

The State Department official said there was broad support among the ministers for the U.N.-led “Geneva Process” that outlines a political transition in Syria in which Assad would step aside.

“The political process that comes out of any war has ups and downs. The Geneva Process is the present focus of making political progress,” the official added.

The United States said its priorities also included Iran’s “malign” regional activities and ending North Korea’s nuclear program.

The foreign ministers’ talks, due to end late on Monday, will help prepare for a G7 leaders’ summit in Canada in early June. The G7 comprises the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Japan.

The G7 last week condemned what it said was a Russian nerve agent attack in Britain. A senior official from one G7 nation said ministers were deeply worried about what the group saw as a pattern of Russia misbehavior going back years.

Russia denies any involvement in the nerve attack on British soil in March.

The meetings are not expected to discuss further punitive measures against Moscow because Britain, France, Germany and Italy are members of the 28-nation European Union, which must agree collectively on what steps to take, said two diplomats briefed on the meeting.

 
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