G7 Foreign Ministers Meet with Russia, China, Iran on Agenda

Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he walks to board a plane at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, to travel to Liverpool, England, to attend a meeting of the Group of Seven foreign ministers. He is then scheduled to travel to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. (Olivier Douliery/Pool Photo via AP)

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

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is due to greet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other G-7 counterparts Friday evening ahead of two days of talks in the northwest England port city famed for its youthful energy, its soccer teams and The Beatles.

Concerns about Russia’s troop build-up near Ukraine, China’s muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific and lagging efforts to vaccinate the world against the coronavirus are on the agenda for the final major event in Britain’s year as G-7 president.

The meeting of top diplomats from the U.K., the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan also comes as negotiators meet in Vienna to try to revive an ailing international deal on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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

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

Truss also warned Russia that a military move on Ukraine would be “a strategic mistake” with “high economic and diplomatic costs” for Moscow.

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

The U.S. and its allies are concerned Russia’s movement of troops and weapons to the border region may be a prelude to a new invasion. Blinken has warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin had amassed the capacity to invade Ukraine “on short order should he so decide.” The U.S. and its NATO allies say they will inflict heavy sanctions on Russia’s economy if that happens.

Climate change, tensions in the Western Balkans, Afghanistan and North Korea are also on the agenda for a meeting that will include both foreign and development ministers from G-7 countries.

Unity among members of the group often proves hard to find. G-7 foreign ministers last met in London in May, issuing a statement accusing China of economic mischief and human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims, but offering little concrete action to deal with an increasingly forceful Beijing.

Britain is keen to work more closely with Asian nations as part of an “Indo-Pacific tilt” following the U.K.’s departure from the European Union last year — both to boost U.K. trade and as a counterweight to China’s dominance. Truss has invited ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the Liverpool meeting, though many will be joining remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

For the ministers attending in person, the U.K. has chosen a location steeped in British history and culture: the Museum of Liverpool in the city’s docklands. The docks on the River Mersey were once a symbol of British global reach and economic might, then of post-industrial decline as ships moved elsewhere in the 20th century. Now they are an example of 21st-century urban renewal as a leisure and cultural district, complete with a Beatles museum.

The gathering will be a getting-to-know-you session for Germany’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, a politician from the environmentalist Greens who has called for “dialogue and toughness” toward China and taken a similar approach to Russia. Germany is due to take over the rotating G-7 presidency in January.

This is also the first major international meeting for Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, who was appointed last month.

– Jill Lawless, AP

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