Foreign ministers from the world’s leading economies met face-to-face for the first time in two years on Monday, following a coronavirus-extended pause.
Britain, which holds the G7 rotating presidency, has billed the event as a chance to reassert its influence and play a greater role in dealing with perceived threats from China and Russia.
The in-person meetings in London on Monday have allowed diplomats the chance to hold informal discussions, which have been missing from teleconferences. On Monday evening, the ministers sat down for a socially distanced dinner.
The diplomats will hold a more formal face-to-face meeting together on Tuesday.
US, UK discuss Russia, China and Iran
Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, spoke alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken after the two met on Monday.
They discussed NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iran, China and the threat posed by Russia.
The pair warned Moscow that it must start respecting international law.
Raab accused Russia of “saber-rattling” with its recent actions on the border with Ukraine.
“The door for positive relations and diplomacy is always open to us,” Britain’s top diplomat told journalists.
“But what has got to change is Russia’s behavior,” he said. “Whether it is the brinkmanship and the saber-rattling with Ukraine, whether it is the cyberattacks and the misinformation, or the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.
Russia was kicked out of the G8, as it was then called, in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea.
Secretary Blinken said that “if Russia chooses to act recklessly or aggressively, we will respond.”
“But we’re not looking to escalate: we would prefer to have a more stable, more predictable relationship. And if Russia moves in that direction, so will we.”
On China, Blinken said the West was not trying to hold China down.
“It is not our purpose to try to contain China or to hold China down,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is to uphold the international rules- based order that our countries have invested so much in over so many decades.”
The pair also discussed how they should help their nationals currently held in jail by Iran.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that the UK was working “very intensively” to secure the release of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but said reports that she is due to be released by Iran are inaccurate.
“It’s incumbent on Iran unconditionally to release those who are held arbitrarily and, in our view, unlawfully, and the reports, I’m afraid, are not yet accurate in terms of the suggestion of her imminent release,” he said.
His US counterpart Blinken also said Iranian reports that a US prisoner swap had been agreed “were not accurate”, but said that the Biden adminstration had “no high priority” than securing the release of “hostages.”
What else is on the agenda?
Raab is hosting his counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US.
Representatives of the European Union are in attendance, as are delegates from Australia, India, South Korea, South Africa and the chairman of the Association of South-East Asian Nations.
“We’ll be taking action to ensure fair access to vaccines around the world, setting global girls’ education targets, agreeing ambitious action on climate change and developing new measures to prevent famine,” said Raab.
The foreign minister said on Twitter that “daily testing and careful safeguards” would be in place to endure “COVID-secure conditions.”
Raab also held talks Monday with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi.
Britain, which is looking to strike more post-Brexit free trade deals, has applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – a free trade agreement of mainly Pacific nations which includes Japan.
“The depth of the UK-Japan relationship is based around a shared outlook on democracy, free trade, tackling climate change, and security collaboration,” Raab said in a statement.
Cornwall backdrop to leaders’ summit
US Secretary of State Blinken’s meeting with his UK counterpart comes ahead of the wider gathering in preparation for US President Joe Biden’s first scheduled trip since taking office.
The June 11-13 leaders’ summit is a chance for Biden to help revive cooperation between allies after years of friction under former US President Donald Trump.
The UK is staging the event in the picturesque seaside county of Cornwall on the southwestern tip of England, in the coastal town of Carbis Bay.
G7 summit to focus on girls’ education
Britain’s Foreign Office has said a key part of the June summit will be plans to boost girls’ education and women’s employment after the COVID-19 pandemic would be a key topic.
The countries are setting up a $15-billion fund, to be administered by developing countries over the next two years.
G7 nations are expected to sign up to new global targets that aim to get 40 million more girls into school in low and lower-middle-income countries by 2026. The aims also include getting 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10.
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