G7 Vows Solidarity With Ukraine ‘As long As It Takes

Representatives of Seven rich nations (G7) and Outreach guests are pictured at the start of their fifth working session about “Investing in a better future: Climate, Energy, Health” on June 27, 2022 at Elmau Castle, southern Germany, during the G7 Summit.

 

 

The Group of Seven rich nations vowed enduring support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, in a statement from its summit in Germany on Monday.

“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” the G7 said.

New COVID-19 Variant: G7 Urges ‘Urgent Action’ On Omicron

anada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy's Prime minister Mario Draghi, France's President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. Leon Neal / POOL / AFP
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy’s Prime minister Mario Draghi, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. Leon Neal / POOL / AFP

 

G7 health ministers on Monday called for “urgent action” to combat the highly transmissible new Omicron Covid-19 strain spreading across the world as the WHO warned of potentially “severe” consequences.

Australia and Japan led the growing list of countries imposing fresh travel restrictions or slamming shut their borders as the new strain, first identified last week in southern Africa, spreads rapidly to Europe, Asia and North America.

While no deaths have yet been reported from Omicron, and it remains unclear how infectious and how resistant the strain may prove to vaccines, its emergence underscores how besieged the world remains by Covid-19, nearly two years after the first cases were recorded.

Many governments, particularly in western Europe, had already struggled with rapid rises in cases and have reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns — leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.

READ ALSO: Australia Halts Border Reopening As WHO Warns On New Variant

“The global community is faced with the threat of a new, at a first evaluation, highly transmissible variant of COVID-19, which requires urgent action,” ministers said following the emergency G7 talks called by chair Britain.

The World Health Organization said the overall risk from Omicron was “very high” and warned that any major surge would put pressure on health systems and cause more deaths.

“If another major surge of Covid-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe,” the WHO cautioned, concluding that “the overall global risk related to the new VOC (variant of concern) Omicron is assessed as very high.”

Scientists in South Africa said they had detected the new variant with at least 10 mutations, compared with three for Beta or two for Delta — the strain that hit the global recovery and sent millions worldwide back into lockdown.

On Monday, Japan joined Israel in announcing plans to bar all new foreign travellers. Australia announced it was delaying by two weeks the relaxation of restrictions that would have allowed skilled workers and foreign students to enter the country from Wednesday.

‘Should not be penalised’

The growing list of countries to impose travel curbs on southern Africa includes Britain, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa — and they should not be penalised for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

China’s President Xi Jinping on Monday pledged Africa one billion Covid vaccine doses as the continent struggles to acquire enough jabs to immunise against the disease.

In Libreville, the Gabonese transport ministry announced a ban on the entry of travellers from eight southern African countries “whose final destination is Gabon”. The eight include Angola, as well as Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

South Africa on Monday said it was “regrettable… (and) sad” that fellow African nations had joined a rush by wealthy countries to impose travel bans over the new Covid variant.

US drugmaker Pfizer and the backers of Russian vaccine Sputnik V said separately they were working on versions of their Covid-19 vaccines specifically targeting the Omicron variant should their current inoculations prove ineffective against the new strain.

US pharmaceutical company Moderna had already said on Friday that it would develop a booster shot against Omicron.

Senior US government scientist Anthony Fauci said on Monday the United States was on “high alert” for the new variant and urged people to get vaccinated.

“Although there’s a lot we don’t know about it, one thing we do know is that vaccinated people do much, much better than unvaccinated people, and particularly when you boost someone,” Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Quarantine flight

The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant was in South Africa on November 9, with infections spreading rapidly in the country.

The WHO warned that some of its mutations might be associated with easier transmission and may have the potential to dodge protections including vaccination — though this is yet to be demonstrated.

South African doctor Angelique Coetzee, who raised the alarm over Omicron, said it was a shame that it had been labelled “extremely dangerous” as the cases she saw suggested the symptoms were milder than other variants.

With the spread of the new variant and rising cases overall, governments are struggling to enforce new measures.

Dutch police arrested a couple who fled a quarantine hotel and boarded a flight to Spain, despite one of them having tested positive for Covid.

And populations are continuing to rebel — tens of thousands taking to the streets in Austria over the weekend to object to mandatory vaccinations.

Nations are gathering in Geneva to discuss an international agreement setting out how to handle the next pandemic — which experts fear is only a matter of time.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said another disastrous pandemic was bound to happen unless countries showed the resolve to strengthen global defences.

G7 To Agree Climate, Conservation Targets As Summit Ends

anada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy's Prime minister Mario Draghi, France's President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. Leon Neal / POOL / AFP
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy’s Prime minister Mario Draghi, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. Leon Neal / POOL / AFP

 

G7 leaders were on Sunday urged to take urgent action to secure the future of the planet, as they finalised new conservation and emissions targets to curb climate change, and wrapped up a three-day summit where revived Western unity has been on show.

Veteran environmentalist and broadcaster David Attenborough told the gathering of the world’s richest nations the natural world was “greatly diminished” and inequality was widespread.

“The question science forces us to address specifically in 2021 is whether as a result of these intertwined facts we are on the verge of destabilising the entire planet?” he said.

“If that is so, then the decisions we make this decade — in particular the decisions made by the most economically advanced nations — are the most important in human history.”

The leaders, holding their first in-person gathering in nearly two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, will agree to protect at least 30 percent of both land and ocean globally by the end of the decade.

The “Nature Compact” struck to try to halt and reverse biodiversity loss is also set to see them commit to nearly halve their carbon emissions by 2030, relative to 2010.

It includes mandating the use of “unabated coal” — fuel whose emissions have not gone through any filtering — “as soon as possible”, ending most government support for the fossil fuel sector overseas, and phasing out petrol and diesel cars.

Hailing the pact, host Boris Johnson said the G7 wanted to “drive a global Green Industrial Revolution to transform the way we live”.

“There is a direct relationship between reducing emissions, restoring nature, creating jobs and ensuring long-term economic growth,” the British prime minister added.

Climate change was a key G7 priority for Britain at the summit in Carbis Bay, southwest England, as it tries to lay the groundwork for hosting the UN COP26 environment summit in November.

But before the pledges had even been formally adopted, environmental campaigners blasted them as lacking enforcement and the necessary scope.

“Despite the green soundbites, Boris Johnson has simply reheated old promises and peppered his plan with hypocrisy, rather than taking real action to tackle the climate and nature emergency,” said Greenpeace UK’s executive director John Sauven.

He also noted wealthy nations had a “dismal track record” over the last decade honouring international climate finance commitments.

– Ties renewed –

The G7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and United States — were eager to renew ties after the discord of Donald Trump’s four years in power.

Joe Biden has sought to turn the page on his predecessor’s international isolationism, seeking to open a new chapter in the Western alliance after Trump alienated and exasperated it at every turn.

The UK government turned to its royals to add a dash of grandeur to the G7 detente, with Queen Elizabeth II and her son Prince Charles hosting a Friday night reception with G7 leaders and European Union chiefs also attending.

Joined Saturday by counterparts from Australia, South Africa and South Korea — with India also taking part remotely — they then enjoyed an evening beach barbecue around fire pits, featuring a sea shanty band and toasted marshmallows.

Overall, the summit was largely consumed with the tough task of forging a more comprehensive response to the pandemic.

Leaders agreed a declaration to help prevent future pandemics and are expected to commit to donate one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to poor countries.

However, there they also faced pushback, with critics arguing it provides just a fraction of what is needed to inoculate the world against the virus, which has claimed nearly four million lives globally and is still spawning new variants.

Britain’s former prime minister Gordon Brown called the summit “a missed opportunity” and an “unforgivable moral failure”.

“We needed 11 billion vaccines, we’ve only got offered a plan for one billion. We needed $50 billion allocated to the vaccination of the world, and (have) only $5 billion,” he told Sky News Sunday.

“Millions of people will go unvaccinated and thousands of people, I’m afraid, will die.”

– Tea with the queen –

The allies also unveiled US-led plans to counter China in infrastructure funding for poorer nations, promising to “collectively catalyse” hundreds of billions of investment.

The “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project is aimed squarely at competing with Beijing’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, which has been widely criticised for saddling small countries with unmanageable debt.

The leaders will publish further details on the B3W in the traditional end-of-summit communique, alongside issuing the Carbis Bay Declaration on health policy.

On other shared foreign policy challenges, on promoting “open societies”, Washington is pushing for a stronger stance on China’s alleged forced labour practices against its Muslim Uyghur minority.

Current tense relations with Moscow, in particular over its cyber activity, are also expected to feature.

Most of those present will reconvene Monday in Brussels for a NATO meeting before Biden heads on to his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, vowing to deliver a blunt message about Russian behaviour.

Before that, the US president will visit the queen at Windsor Castle late Sunday, where he and First Lady Jill Biden will take tea with the queen.

AFP

Indian FM To Join G7 Virtually After Possible COVID-19 Exposure

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a press conference with India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar following a bilateral meeting in London on May 3, 2021, during the G7 foreign ministers meeting. 
Ben STANSALL / AFP / POOL

 

India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in Britain for G7 meetings, said on Wednesday he would hold his talks virtually after being exposed to possible coronavirus cases.

The foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States are wrapping up three days of talks in London ahead of a G7 leaders’ summit next month in Cornwall in southern England.

India is not part of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies but was invited to the talks by Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the group throughout 2021.

“Was made aware yesterday evening of exposure to possible Covid positive cases,” Jaishankar tweeted.

“As a measure of abundant caution and also out of consideration for others, I decided to conduct my engagements in the virtual mode. That will be the case with the G7 Meeting today as well.”

Sky News earlier reported there had been two positive cases among the Indian delegation.

A senior British diplomat said in a statement that “we deeply regret” Jaishankar’s absence for the in-person meeting on Wednesday.

“But this is exactly why we have put in place strict Covid protocols and daily testing.”

Jaishankar met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in person, with both wearing masks, on Monday evening on the sidelines of the foreign ministers summit.

Blinken has already received two coronavirus vaccine doses.

The US State Department said it had been advised, including by public health professionals in Britain, that its health protocols “would permit us to continue with our G7 activities as planned”.

“We have no reason to believe any of our delegation is at risk. We will continue to follow the guidance of public health professionals going forward and abide by the same strict Covid-19 protocols,” spokesman Ned Price said.

India, the world’s second-most populous nation, has been hit by a devastating wave of infections in recent weeks that has taken its total number of cases to more than 20.6 million.

The massive spike — which has badly hit major cities including the capital New Delhi and financial hub Mumbai — has pushed the healthcare system to breaking point, overwhelming hospitals and leading to severe shortages of beds, oxygen and other critical medical supplies.

The country of 1.3 billion people on Wednesday reported more than 382,000 new infections and 3,780 deaths — its highest number of fatalities yet in the pandemic.

The G7 was due to discuss coronavirus vaccines Wednesday amid growing pressure on the group to share stockpiles and know-how with poor nations.

-AFP

Trump Golf Club In Florida To Host Next G7 Summit

From L) Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a work session in the Casino of Biarritz on August 26, 2019.  AFP

 

Next year’s G7 summit will take place in one of Donald Trump’s Florida golf clubs, the president’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on Thursday.

The leaders’ summit is to take place in the United States, and Trump had previously suggested hosting it at one of his own golf clubs — drawing immediate criticism that he is profiteering from his presidency.

AFP

Poland Rejects Trump’s Bid For Russia’s G7 Return

From L) Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a work session in the Casino of Biarritz on August 26, 2019, on the third and last day of the annual G7 Summit attended by the leaders of the world’s seven richest democracies, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.  Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP

 

Poland’s president on Monday opposed a proposal by US President Donald Trump to reintegrate Russia into the elite G7 group, insisting that “business as usual” was unacceptable given Moscow’s occupation of Ukrainian territory.

“Should we have a business as usual approach towards Russia?… I believe that we cannot under the current circumstances,” President Andrzej Duda told reporters at a joint press conference with visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.

The issue of Russia’s reintegration into the G7 group of the world’s rich nations divided leaders at its summit last week in France, as Trump pushed for Moscow to be allowed back after its 2014 expulsion.

Russia was kicked out of what was then the Group of Eight after it annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, a move never recognised by the international community.

But Trump, who will host next year’s G7 summit, said he would invite Russia to the event, a move supported by France but criticised by Britain and Germany. Poland is not a G7 member.

Speaking alongside Duda on Monday, Pence struck a different tone, insisting that it was crucial to “remain vigilant” towards Russia.

He accused Moscow of attempting to meddle in elections and use its oil and gas supplies to “divide our alliance”, in an apparent reference to the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline set to send Russian gas to Germany.

Washington and Warsaw, among others, oppose the pipeline, fearing it will increase Europe’s reliance on Russian energy supplies which Moscow could then use to exert political pressure.

Poland has long cultivated close ties with the US, which it regards as the primary guarantor of its security within the NATO alliance and as a bulwark against Russia, its Soviet-era master with whom tensions still run high.

Judicial independence 

Pence and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki were to sign a joint US-Polish declaration on digital infrastructure security later Monday.

“This declaration, we believe, will set a vital example for the rest of Europe on the broader question of 5G,” Pence had told reporters earlier.

The US is pressing allies, with mixed success, to reject Chinese 5G technology, especially from the giant mobile phone company Huawei.

Washington fears that Huawei will provide Beijing with a way to spy on communications from the countries that use its products and services.

Pence also said he had discussed the “importance of judicial independence” with Duda in the wake of a string of controversial judicial reforms pushed through by Poland’s right-wing government since taking office in 2015.

The EU has slammed the measures as a threat to the rule of law and ultimately democracy.

Pence also said that Poles travelling to the US would soon be covered by Washington’s visa-waiver programme, allowing them unrestricted entry.

“We are literally weeks away from being able to make that a reality,” Pence said.

The US vice president travelled to Warsaw for Sunday ceremonies marking 80 years since the outbreak of World War II.

President Trump had planned to attend the war commemorations but cancelled at the last minute to monitor Hurricane Dorian.

Without going into detail, Trump confirmed on Sunday in Washington that he had only postponed his trip and would travel to Poland “soon”.

AFP

G7 Pledges Millions To Fight Amazon Fires

Handout aerial picture released by Greenpeace showing fire raging in the forest in the municipality of Candeias do Jamari, close to Porto Velho in Rondonia State, in the Amazon basin in northwestern Brazil, on August 24, 2019.  PHOTO: Victor MORIYAMA / GREENPEACE / AFP

 

The G7 will give $20 million (18 million euros) to send firefighting planes to tackle the blazes engulfing parts of the Amazon, the presidents of France and Chile said Monday.

“We must respond to the call of the forest which is burning today in the Amazon,” France’s Emmanuel Macron said as President Sebastian Pinera of Chile, a guest of the G7, underlined that “countries of the Amazon are in dire need of fire brigades and water bomber planes.”

Nearly 80,000 forest fires have been detected in Brazil since the beginning of the year — just over half of them in the massive Amazon basin.

Macron had declared the situation an “international crisis” and made it a priority of the summit of the G7, which comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

G7 leaders gathered in Biarritz held talks on the many environmental challenges facing planet Earth, with a focus on the record number of fires destroying swathes of the Amazon.

Macron has threatened to block a huge new trade deal between the EU and Latin America unless Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate change sceptic, takes serious steps to protect the fast-shrinking forest from logging and mining.

Bolsonaro lashed out at the French leader over his criticism and suggested NGOs could be setting the fires to embarrass him — without giving any evidence to back the claim.

But at the weekend, he finally caved in to international pressure to save a region crucial for maintaining a stable global climate, deploying two aircraft to douse fires and authorising the army to help tackle the blazes.

 ‘Universal heritage’

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his country would send a water bomber plane to fight the Amazon blazes and contribute some $15 million to the effort.

The G7 also agreed to support a reforestation plan to be unveiled in September, the leaders said.

Brazil would have to agree to any reforestation plan, as would indigenous communities living in the world’s biggest rainforest.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said new planting was needed “to preserve this universal heritage, which is absolutely essential for the well-being of the world’s population.”

He said the issue would be discussed during the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

Macron told France 2 it was hoped “at least 30 million” dollars could be raised for the project.

On Monday evening, the French leader met Brazilian indigenous chief Raoni Metuktire, who said he had asked Macron to “help us preserve our lands.”

“The forests and lands of Brazil help the entire planet live,” said the chief, an advocate for indigenous rights.

Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan welcomed the G7 aid, but said the club must also “stop fuelling the destruction of the Amazon through the import of agricultural products associated with deforestation and soil degradation.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised 10 million pounds ($12 million) for Amazon reforestation projects, while luxury fashion giant LVMH pledged 10 million euros.

AFP

Johnson ‘Marginally’ More Optimistic On Brexit Deal After G7

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that he was “marginally more optimistic” on the chances of clinching a deal for Britain’s exit from the EU after talks at the G7 this weekend, but acknowledged it would be difficult.

“I am marginally more optimistic,” he said after intense contacts on Brexit at the G7 with fellow leaders.

But he added: “It will be difficult… there is a substantial disagreement” between Britain and the EU.

Johnson insisted that it was up to the EU to improve the chances of a deal but needed to negotiate a new agreement on leaving without the so-called “backstop” for Ireland.

The backstop provision, strongly opposed by Johnson’s government and Brexit supporters, is meant to guarantee that border checks will not return between Ireland, an EU member, and Britain’s Northern Ireland.

The EU has so far rejected negotiating a new deal, which was approved by the government under Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May but repeatedly rejected by the British parliament.

“All the statistical estimates I give for a deal… they all depend exclusively on the willingness of our friends and partners (in the EU) to compromise on that crucial point and get rid of the backstop and the current withdrawal agreement.”

Addressing concerns he is prepared to ignore parliament so that Britain leaves the EU on October 31, Johnson said British people were tired of reading about Brexit on the front pages of their newspapers.

“I think that this is a matter for parliamentarians to get right themselves,” he said, adding that it was up to lawmakers to implement the outcome of the 2016 referendum that called for the EU exit.

“People have just about had enough of this conversation and they are yearning for a moment when Brexit comes off the front pages. But that can only happen when we come out of the EU on October 31,” he said.

Johnson also reaffirmed that if Britain left the EU without a deal it would not pay all of the £39 billion ($47 billion, 43 billion euro) divorce bill that has already been negotiated.

He did not specify how much, if any, would be paid.

“Under any circumstances, if there is a no-deal outcome, very substantial sums will be available from the 39 billion for the UK to spend on our priorities, including managing that no-deal scenario,” he said.

The EU insists Britain must pay the bill even if it crashes out of the bloc without a deal.

G7 Leaders Divided Over Russia’s Readmission

From L) Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a work session in the Casino of Biarritz on August 26, 2019. Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP

 

The future reintegration of Russia into the elite G7 group of the world’s rich nations has proved an explosive issue at a summit in France, with leaders divided over whether to allow Moscow back in after its 2014 expulsion.

Russia was kicked out of what was then the Group of  Eight (G8) as Moscow was holding its presidency after it annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, a move never recognised by the international community.

But US President Donald Trump, who will host the next Group of Seven summit in 2020, has spoken out in favour of readmitting Russia.

READ ALSO: Macron Condemns ‘Extraordinarily Rude’ Bolsonaro Insults

And the host of this year’s event, French President Emmanuel Macron, has also said it would be appropriate to include Russia if key conditions were met.

However Britain, whose ties with Russia hit a new low following the 2018 chemical poisoning on its territory of Russian ex-double agent Sergei Skripal which London blamed on the Kremlin, has spoken out against Moscow’s readmittance.

 ‘Difficult talks’ 

The issue came to a head during lengthy discussions at the leaders’ first official G7 dinner on Saturday, where the premiers and heads of state — also including Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada — put forward “forthright” positions on the issue, said a source close to the discussions, asking not to be named.

“You did very well last night President Macron,” Johnson told his French host on Sunday as the leaders met for a session to discuss the world economy. “That was a difficult one.”

Sources later confirmed that Johnson had been referring to Macron’s stewardship of the dinner in the debate over Russia as the leaders pushed their “strong” views on the matter.

Diplomatic sources said the leaders agreed to be in favour of reinforcing coordination with Russia, but that it was too early for reintegration.

“I think it’s advantageous (for Russia to rejoin) but other people don’t necessarily agree with me at this time,” said Trump as the G7 wound up on Monday. “We will see what happens.”

Macron had said in the run-up to the summit that it would be “appropriate” for Russia to rejoin the group and less than a week before the event held several hours of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his summer residence.

But Macron said first a solution had to be found for Ukraine, where in addition to the annexation of Crimea, pro-Moscow separatists declared unrecognised breakaway statelets in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who shares Britain’s wariness about Russia rejoining the group, said herself, Macron, Putin and new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would soon meet in a bid to relaunch the peace process.

 ‘Is Russia on that path?’ 

Moscow joined the group in 1998 — when the G7 became the G8 — under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin as the West tried to anchor post-Soviet Russia into the international community.

But tensions intensified throughout Putin’s ascendancy in Russia and he skipped a 2012 G8 summit hosted by the United States shortly after he was re-elected president following a stint as prime minister.

Ironically, Russia held the G8 presidency in 2014 but a planned summit in June of that year in the Black Sea resort of Sochi never took place as it was expelled from the group. The other seven countries instead met in Brussels.

Like Britain, Canada also strongly opposes readmitting Russia unless seized Ukrainian territory is handed back.

EU Council President Donald Tusk meanwhile said that “under no condition” could he accept the logic that the status quo in Ukraine be accepted and Russia return to the G8.

“The reasons why Russia was disinvited in 2014 are still valid,” said Tusk.

“When Russia was invited to the G7 for the first time (under Yeltsin) it was believed that it would pursue the path of liberal democracy, rule of law and human rights.

“Is there anyone among us, who can say out of full conviction, not out of business calculation, that Russia is on that path?” Tusk asked, retorting it should be Zelensky, not Putin, who is invited to the next G7.

Iran Foreign Minister Makes Surprise Visit To G7 Summit

 

 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif flew into Biarritz in southwestern France for the G7 summit on Sunday in a surprise attempt to break a diplomatic deadlock over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme.

Zarif’s presence had not been announced and represented a gamble by French host Emmanuel Macron who is seeking to soothe spiralling tensions between Iran and the United States.

The Iranian top diplomat did not hold talks with US President Donald Trump in the French surf town, French diplomats said, but the presence of the two men in the same place sparked hopes of a detente.

“Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying,” the US-educated Zarif wrote on Twitter after meeting Macron and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as well as British and German officials.

French officials said Trump had been aware of the arrival and suggested that it had been discussed during an impromptu two-hour lunch with Macron on a hotel terrace on Saturday.

“We work with full transparency with the Americans,” one diplomat told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Robert Malley, head of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, said that it was a sign that Trump had given “some positive response” to Macron’s proposals for a deal.

“Maybe President Trump told President Macron privately that he was open to some of these ideas,” he told AFP.

“The big caveat, the elephant in the room, is that there is considerable room between what President Trump says and what he thinks one day, and what he says and thinks the next,” he added.

Also speaking in Biarritz, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Trump had in the past said that if Iran “wants to sit down and negotiate he will not set preconditions.”

French officials said the discussions had been “positive” and Zarif left the beach-side gathering in the evening.

– ‘Moving in right direction’ –
Macron had held talks with Zarif in Paris on the eve of the G7 summit and has been leading efforts to bring Tehran and Washington back to the negotiating table.

Trump’s policy of applying “maximum pressure” on Tehran via crippling sanctions has been criticised by European powers and is seen as raising the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

At the end of July, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on Zarif, saying he “spreads the regime’s propaganda and disinformation.”

Macron has urged the US administration to offer some sort of relief to Iran, such as lifting sanctions on oil sales to China and India, or a new credit line to enable exports.

In return, Iran would return to complying with a landmark 2015 deal limiting its nuclear programme, which Trump unilaterally pulled out from last year, Malley explained.

“I suspect that they (the French) are as cautious as I am,” Malley added.

Speaking to AFP last week, Zarif said that Macron’s suggestions were “moving in the right direction, although we are not definitely there yet.”

Zarif was a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal reached between Iran, the United States, European powers, Russia and China.

– Trade war doubts? –
The G7 leaders, spouses and other invitees from South America and Africa wrapped up their long day with a group photo on a stage overlooking the Biarritz beach, with the city’s tall lighthouse in the background.

They were all smiles and Trump proclaimed that the G7 summit had been going “beautifully.”

However, there was no masking over cracks between the US president and his allies on many issues.

Leaders of the G7 countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — put on a united front as they spent a second day in the high-end French surfing town of Biarritz.

Trump arrived in Biarritz fresh from having drastically upped the ante in the trade war with China.

European leaders lined up to press for caution and on Sunday Trump gave a glimmer of hope that he was reconsidering his all-or-nothing approach to the dispute between the world’s two biggest economies.

Asked whether he was having second thoughts about the trade war, Trump, in a rare moment of public self-doubt, replied: “I have second thoughts about everything.”

Then in an extraordinary turnaround, Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said just hours later that the president had been misunderstood.

He did have regrets, she said, but not what everyone thought.

“He regrets not raising the tariffs higher,” she explained.

At a breakfast meeting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the latest of the G7 partners to urge Trump to step back from a trade war that critics fear could tip the world economy into recession.

“Just to register a faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war — we are in favour of trade peace on the whole,” Johnson told Trump.

The meeting with Johnson, who is sometimes seen as a British version of the populist, nationalist Trump, underlined the White House’s dislike for the powerful European Union.

Trump predicted that Johnson would manage to untangle the mess of Brexit and described the EU as “an anchor around their ankle.”

The 73-year-old US leader then promised Johnson a “very big trade deal, bigger than we’ve ever had.”

Trump Backs Johnson, Sends Mixed Signals About China At G7

US President Donald Trump (R) and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speak before a working breakfast at the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France on August 25, 2019, on the second day of the annual G7 Summit attended by the leaders of the world’s seven richest democracies, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. Erin Schaff / POOL / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump on Sunday backed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the “right man” for Brexit and sent mixed signals about his trade war with China at a G7 summit dominated by worries about the global economy.

Johnson and Trump were on obviously friendly terms as they sat down for a working breakfast in the southern French resort of Biarritz where Group of Seven leaders are gathering this weekend.

“He’s going to be a fantastic prime minister,” Trump said in their first meeting since Johnson took office last month.

Asked what his advice was for Brexit, Trump replied: “He needs no advice. He’s the right man for the job. I’ve been saying that for a long time.”

In the lead-up to the talks, Johnson had appeared at pains to distance himself from Trump after facing accusations in the past of being too cosy with the American leader.

And at their meeting, Johnson again pressed a common message from European leaders at the summit about Trump’s escalating trade war with China.

“Just to register a faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war — we are in favour of trade peace on the whole,” Johnson told Trump.

The 73-year-old US leader promised Johnson “very big trade deal, bigger than we’ve ever had”, but couldn’t resist another undiplomatic dig at the European Union.

Trump compared it to an “anchor around their ankle”.

‘Respect the trade war’

But to the relief of his partners, Trump also appeared to back off from a threatened further escalation in his battle with China.

“I think they respect the trade war. It has to happen,” Trump told reporters.

Asked whether he was having second thoughts, he replied: “I have second thoughts about everything.”

The Basque resort of Biarritz, which at this time of year usually teems with surfers and sunbathers, has been turned into a fortress for the G7 event with over 13,000 police on duty.

An anti-capitalism demonstration in nearby Bayonne turned ugly Saturday night when the crowd of several hundred tried to get through police barricades and was repelled with water cannon and tear gas.

Earlier on Saturday, organisers in the French border town of Hendaye said 15,000 people rallied in a peaceful march over the Bidassoa River towards the Spanish town of Irun.

G7 summits, gathering Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, were once a meeting of like-minded allies, but they have become a diplomatic battlefield in the Trump era.

“This may be the last moment to restore our political community,” EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Saturday.

Iran divisions

Over an open dinner of red tuna at the foot of a landmark lighthouse in the famed surf town of Biarritz, the leaders began talks on Saturday night attempting to narrow their differences.

The US-China trade war, but also fires in the Amazon and the Iranian nuclear crisis, were on the menu.

“You did very well last night President Macron,” Johnson told his French host as the leaders met for a session to discuss the world economy. “That was a difficult one.”

In a sign of the difficulties, Macron thought he had agreed a common G7 position on Iran to try to find a way out of the current impasse that has seen tensions spiral in the Middle East.

Macron said in an interview to French television that they had “agreed on what to say to Iran”.

But Trump, who has previously accused Macron of sending “mixed signals” to Iran, denied it.

“We’ll do our own outreach. But you can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk,” he said.

In a radical break from previous meetings of the elite club, there is to be no final statement at the end of the talks on Monday, an admission of lowered expectations.

Macron has also invited several world leaders from outside the G7 such as India’s Narendra Modi and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who will join the meeting on Sunday.

Macron is also pushing for action against fires in the Amazon rainforest, despite Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s angry response to what he sees as outside interference.

Merkel-Trump Face-Off Photo Makes History Books

Photo released on Twitter by the German Government’s spokesman Steffen Seibert on June 9, 2018 and taken by the German government’s photographer Jesco Denzel shows US President Donald Trump (R) talking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) and surrounded by other G7 leaders during a meeting of the G7 Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada.                                  Jesco Denzel / Bundesregierung / AFP

 

A photo posted by the German government showing a determined Angela Merkel standing up to an intransigent Donald Trump appears destined for the history books, summing up the deep fractures left by a disastrous G7 summit.

The already iconic picture by Berlin’s official photographer at the gathering in Canada, Jesco Denzel, set social media alight when it appeared on Saturday, hours before Trump ripped up the hard-fought summit conclusions in an angry tweetstorm.

The image, which drew comparisons to a Baroque painting, shows Merkel standing at the centre of the frame leaning across a table before a seated Trump, his arms crossed in defiance.

Looking focused or exasperated depending on the viewer’s interpretation, Merkel is flanked by British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, their faces largely obscured. Shinzo Abe of Japan looks on with a world-weary expression.

Many saw a distillation of a crisis of the West in the photograph, and a revival of the debate launched by US and British media after Trump’s 2016 election whether Merkel was the new “leader of the free world”.

National broadsheet Sueddeutsche Zeitung noted the moniker had made Merkel “uncomfortable” at the time.

“She thought it was exaggerated, hasty, inappropriate. A year and a half later, this restraint is no longer up-to-date or appropriate… If Merkel doesn’t rise to the occasion, it can quickly mean the end of the post-war order in Europe.”

Other observers underlined a victory for Berlin’s spin doctors.

“A hands-down public relations triumph for Germany,” news weekly Der Spiegel said of the picture that seemed to capture the world’s imagination.

‘1:0 for the US president’ 

A winner, however, is in the eye of the beholder.

Elisabeth Wehling, a US-based political linguistics researcher, tweeted that the body language clearly pointed to Trump dominating the scene.

“1:0 for the US president! Sitting while the other stands is a classic strategy of gestural framing, to establish one’s own authority and propagate it via pictures — it works on global media because it transcends language barriers,” she wrote.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton, who stands next to Trump in the picture, tweeted it during the summit to tout the America First message.

“Just another #G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank,” he wrote.

“The President made it clear today. No more. (photo by @RegSprecher),” crediting Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert’s account for the image for good measure.

Seibert said laconically Monday that he had posted the photo on Twitter and Instagram simply to “give an overview of the chancellor’s work and the intense working atmosphere at a G7” summit.

Regardless of the interpretation, the image succeeded in launching an internet-wide caption contest.

Belgian Guy Verhofstadt, who heads the European Parliament’s liberal group, chose the tagline: “Just tell us what Vladimir has on you. Maybe we can help,” in a tart reference to alleged collusion between Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government and the Trump team to influence the US presidential election.

“This looks like an episode of Celebrity Apprentice where Trump is about to fire Angela Merkel because her strudel marketing plan fell through,” Washington-based comedian Tim Young tweeted.

Doctored images showed the US president as a petulant child — including memes with Trump overturning a bowl of noodles on his head or clutching a teddy bear as Merkel sternly looks on.

‘Won’t be bamboozled’ 

But the humour couldn’t mask a deep sense of unease that the end of the transatlantic partnership was nigh.

Far from taking a victory lap, Merkel told German public television late Sunday that she found the summit’s implosion “sobering and a little depressing” and called it a “momentous step” taken by Trump.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose office for the first time in the history of the republic has reportedly ordered an overhaul of Germany’s US policy, went further.

“You can destroy an incredible amount of trust very quickly in a tweet,” he said.

“Europe United is the answer to America First.”

Germany, Europe’s top economy, finds itself in the sights of the US president due to its large trade surplus and defence spending criticised as too low by NATO.

Merkel acknowledged that the moment had arrived for Germany and Europe to rethink their role in the world.

The European Union must develop “a joint strategic culture”, she said, “otherwise Europe will be ground up in a world with very strong poles” of power elsewhere.

With an eye to the trade dispute, she added, “we won’t be bamboozled — we will take action.”

AFP