G7 ministers meet against backdrop of Russia stand-off
April 22 2018 06:24 PM
Quebec resort in town of Charlevoix to host G7 meetings
Quebec resort in town of Charlevoix to host G7 meetings

AFP/Toronto, Canada

The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations met in Toronto on Sunday seeking a common front against what they see as aggression from Vladimir Putin's Russia.

The envoys will also be keen to glean clues from their US colleague about whether President Donald Trump will tear up the Iran nuclear deal and how he will handle a planned summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

The ministers from the world's most powerful democracies are also meeting to plan for June's G7 summit of rich-world leaders in Charlevoix, Quebec -- but Russia and North Korea will never be far from their minds.

Acting US Secretary of State John Sullivan's first bilateral meeting in Toronto late Saturday was with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

‘Acting Secretary Sullivan reaffirmed the United States' ironclad support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression,’ State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

‘He urged Ukraine to redouble reform efforts and adhere to IMF programs by adopting legislation to establish a truly independent anti-corruption court and raising gas tariffs to import parity levels,’ she added.

On Sunday, Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland will host all of her G7 colleagues plus the European Union's representative at a working lunch to discuss the crisis in Russia and Ukraine.

- Deadly nerve agent -

G7 capitals are also worried about Russia's role in supporting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's regime in his country's brutal civil war and alleged attempt to kill a defector with a nerve agent on Russian soil.

On Monday, the foreign ministers issued a joint statement urging the Kremlin to address ‘all questions related to the incident’ and to make a ‘full and complete disclosure of its previously undeclared Novichok program.’

Novichok is a group of deadly chemical compounds reportedly developed by the Soviet government in the 1970s and 80s and which Britain suspects was used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March.

After their lunch, the ministers will also hold a meeting on North Korea and nuclear non-proliferation.

Last month, in one of the most surprising twists in world affairs for decades, Trump accepted an invitation from Pyongyang's eccentric autocrat Kim to a summit to discuss his nuclear disarmament.

- Tougher nuclear controls -

The G7 members, including frontline state Japan, support efforts to convince Kim to end his efforts to develop a strategic nuclear missile arsenal, but are also keen to hear more from the US side.

Kim is sure to have demands of the West and allies are keen to ensure that Trump does not give too much away to secure a historic deal.

The North Korea meeting will be followed by one of the so-called ‘Quad’ -- the United States plus France, Britain and Germany, the Western partners who, with Russia and China, signed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Trump has threatened to tear the agreement up unless European capitals agree to supplement it with tougher controls on Iran's missile program and future ability to return to nuclear fuel enrichment.

But his partners continue to believe the core agreement represents the best way to prevent Tehran from seeking the atomic bomb, and will not miss a chance to lobby Sullivan to convince Trump to reverse course.

The Toronto talks may be Sullivan's last high-level international confab as acting secretary. CIA director Mike Pompeo has been nominated to replace him as Washington's top diplomat and may be confirmed this week.

After Sunday's foreign affairs meetings the ministers will be joined on Monday by their domestic security counterparts and the discussions will be widened to encompass counter-terrorism and cyber security.

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