G7 foreign ministers meet Russia, China, Iran on agenda

LONDON – Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized countries meet for a weekend in Liverpool, with British hosts seeking elusive unity to ease growing tensions with Russia, China and Iran.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is due to welcome US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other G-7 counterparts on Friday evening ahead of two days of talks in the famed North West England port city for his youthful energy, his football teams and the Beatles.

Concerns over the buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine, China’s muscle contraction in the Indo-Pacific, and delayed efforts to vaccinate the world against the coronavirus are on the agenda of the latest major event of Britain’s Year as President of the G-7.

The meeting of senior diplomats from UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan also comes as negotiators meet in Vienna to try to revive a troubled international deal on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Truss warned this week that the Vienna talks were “Iran’s last chance to sign” the deal, which aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for easing economic sanctions. It faltered after then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 and Iran began ramping up its uranium enrichment.

In a speech to the Chatham House think tank, Truss urged Iran to join the deal, “because we are determined to work with our allies to prevent Iran from securing its nuclear weapons.”

Truss also warned Russia that military action against Ukraine would be “a strategic error” with “high economic and diplomatic costs” for Moscow.

Russia was kicked out of the club of industrialized countries, formerly the G-8, after its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its aid to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The United States and its allies fear that the Russian movement of troops and weapons to the border region may be the prelude to another invasion. Blinken warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin had built up the capacity to invade Ukraine “at short notice if he so decided.” The United States and its NATO allies say they will impose heavy sanctions on the Russian economy if this happens.

Climate change, tensions in the Western Balkans, Afghanistan and North Korea are also on the program of a meeting which will bring together the Foreign Affairs and Development ministers of the G-7 countries.

Unity among group members is often difficult to find. G-7 foreign ministers last met in London in May, issuing statement accusing China of economic wrongdoing and human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims, but proposing little action concrete measures to face an increasingly energetic Beijing.

Britain wants to work more closely with Asian countries as part of an “Indo-Pacific tilt” after the UK left the European Union last year – both to boost UK trade and as a counterweight to Chinese domination. Truss has invited ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the Liverpool meeting, although many will join remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For the ministers present in person, the United Kingdom chose a place steeped in British history and culture: the Museum of Liverpool in the city docks. The docks of the River Mersey were once a symbol of British global reach and economic might, and then of post-industrial decline as ships moved elsewhere in the 20th century. Today they are an example of 21st century urban renewal as a leisure and cultural district, with a Beatles museum.

The rally will be a session to get to know the new German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, a politician from the Green environmentalists who called for “dialogue and firmness” towards China and has taken a similar approach towards Russia. Germany is expected to assume the rotating presidency of the G-7 in January.

It is also the first major international meeting of Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, appointed last month.

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