TORONTO — Diplomats from the world’s seven leading democracies met here Sunday to discuss ways to counter Russia in Syria and Ukraine and Iran in the Middle East.
At the forefront of the two-day meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven, or G-7, are mutual concerns over Russia. In a sign of the steep deterioration of relations between the United States and Russia, U.S. officials spoke about the Kremlin’s behavior in terms often used for a U.S. arch adversary, Iran.
“There was a G-7 unity on opposing Russia’s malign behavior,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks. The official said there would still be dialogue with Russia “while we hold them accountable for their malign activities and their efforts to destabilize nations.”
A few years ago, Russia was the group’s eighth member. It was suspended from the exclusive club after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The G-7 now comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
Russia’s activities in Ukraine and elsewhere since then have served as a reminder of the G-7’s original purpose. The group was formed in 1975 to stand up for the values of open democracies and liberty. Now, with the West and Russia in their most confrontational period since the end of the Cold War, the G-7 has united to push back against its former member.
The G-7 condemned the use of what it suspects was a Russian nerve agent against a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain. And it issued a strong statement of support for the allied airstrikes in Syria, where Russian support has turned the tide of civil war in favor of President Bashar al-Assad.
Toronto marks the first high-level talks between the United States, France and Britain since the three nations conducted airstrikes on Syria on April 13 to retaliate for the suspected use of chemical weapons by the Syrian military.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who will arrive in Washington Monday on a state visit, said Sunday that the United States and its allies have a continuing role to play in Syria for some time. “The day we will finish this war against ISIS, if we leave, definitely and totally, even from a political point of view, we will leave the floor to the Iranian regime, Bashar al-Assad and his guys, and they will prepare the new war,” he said on Fox News. “They will fuel the new terrorists.”
The diplomats met under the cloud of crises and intransigent problems around the world. The menu of hotspots was so full that they ended up postponing a meeting that acting secretary of state John Sullivan was to have with his counterparts from France, Britain and Germany to discuss European efforts to craft a supplemental agreement to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). President Trump has threatened to walk away from the accord on May 12 if his objections are not addressed, including “sunset” clauses in the deal that phase out restrictions on Iran over time.
With three weeks to go, it was unclear whether enough progress can be made to win his approval.
“It’s too early to tell,” the State Department official said.
Before Sullivan and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson held a closed-door meeting, Johnson was overheard saying, “One of the things we are concerned about now is the JCPOA and where that is headed.”
The diplomats also devoted time to discussing the expected summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea has told South Korea that it is willing to discuss ending its nuclear weapons program, but the United States remains skeptical.
Sullivan is representing the United States because CIA Director Mike Pompeo has not been confirmed as a replacement for Rex Tillerson , who was fired from his position as secretary of state last month.
John Kirton, director of the G-7 Research Group at the University of Toronto, where the summit is being held, considers Pompeo’s absence a lost opportunity to brief key allies on his face-to-face talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the Easter weekend.
“Mr. Trump should have ordered him to come here as CIA director,” Kirton said. “In a very small room, when it’s only seven of you and one more American, you forget job titles. It’s not too late. The president can still find a plane to get him.”
The heads of state of the seven countries will meet in June, also in Canada.