Toronto (Canada) (AFP) – The Group of Seven industrialized nations presented a stern common front against Russian aggression Sunday at their foreign ministers conference in Toronto.
But for all the talk of resisting the “malign activities” of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, Washington’s European partners are still concerned that President Donald Trump will tear up the Iran nuclear deal.
And all the G7 partners remain anxious for clues as to how the unpredictable US leader will handle a planned disarmament summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
“There was G7 unity on opposing Russia’s malign behavior,” a senior US official told reporters, citing Moscow’s failure to prevent Syrian forces from using chemical weapons and interference in Western elections.
The final joint statement from the talks will not be released until Monday, but officials from other nations confirmed that the ministers had taken a tough line on Russia’s alleged crimes.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who begins a series of meetings with Trump on Monday, said in an interview that the West must stand up to Putin’s attacks on western democracy, including the spreading of “fake news.”
“He’s strong and smart. But don’t be naive. He’s obsessed by interference in our democracies,” Macron told “Fox News Sunday” before setting off for Washington.
“That’s why I do believe that we should never be weak with President Putin. When you are weak, he uses it.”
Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland hosted the meeting and invited her G7 colleagues plus the European Union’s representative to a working lunch to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebels have seized an eastern region.
Later, she said G7 members had “reaffirmed our unity in support of Ukraine and a rules-based international order where state sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected by all.”
– Deadly nerve agent –
G7 capitals are also worried about Russia’s support for 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 British soil.
The senior US official stressed that this month’s joint US, French and British air strikes against Assad’s chemical sites were “not a one-off but was part of a sustained allied campaign to reestablish the deterrent against chemical weapons, and that includes using military means again if necessary.”
But, while the Western allies appeared united in their resolve to face down Russia, the European partners remain concerned that Trump may tear up the 2015 Iran nuclear deal next month.
Trump has threatened to abandon the accord unless European capitals agree to supplement it with tougher controls on Iran’s missile program and future ability to enrich nuclear fuel.
His partners maintain that the implementation of the agreement under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) represents the best way to prevent Tehran from seeking the atomic bomb.
“We’ve been negotiating with the Europeans,” a senior US official accompanying Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan told reporters. “We’ve made a great deal of progress but we’re not there yet.”
During a day-long series of talks, Sullivan stepped aside for a brief bilateral meeting with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
As the pair sat down in the office of the chancellor of the University of Toronto, Johnson was heard telling his US counterpart “one of the things we are concerned about now is the JCPOA and where that is headed.”
A French diplomatic source told AFP that: “Several G7 ministers, led by the French, made a strong appeal to the United States… As it stands, we must not throw the JCPOA out with the bath water.”
The Europeans are willing to work on a supplement to the deal which would not abrogate it, and would toughen controls on Iran’s missile program but “not give Iran a pretext to pull out, which would have disastrous consequences.”
The ministers also discussed North Korea.
Last month, in one of the most surprising twists in world affairs for decades, Trump accepted an invitation from Pyongyang’s autocrat to a summit to discuss 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 make wide demands of the West, and allies are keen to ensure that Trump does not give too much away to secure a historic deal.
After the foreign affairs meeting, the ministers will be joined on Monday by their domestic security counterparts and discussions will be widened to encompass counterterrorism and cyber security.