Monday

17th Feb 2020

Western leaders disagree on Russia, Iran, and Brazil

  • French president Emmanuel Macron hosted the G7 summit in Biarritz, France (Photo: Consilium)

Western leaders could not agree whether to drop Russia sanctions or how to handle Iran and Brazil at the G7 summit in France.

The idea of reinviting Russia to the annual meeting of world powers was discussed at the G7 meeting over dinner in Biarritz, France, on Saturday (24 August), US president Donald Trump said.

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"We have a number of people that would like to see Russia back. I think it would be advantageous to many things in the world. I think it would be a positive. Other people agree with me," he told press on Sunday.

He declined to name the "other people" who agreed with his proposal, but he added: "I was actually surprised at a couple of them because I didn't think they had a good relationship, and it was good enough that they said: 'Yes, we'd like to have them back'."

White House officials briefed US media that the French and Italian delegations were among them.

But French officials said president Emmanuel Macron had maintained that Russia would first have to end its war in Ukraine.

"A return to the G8 format with Russia is currently not up for debate. All G7 partners have decided to suspend Russia from the group due to the annexation of Crimea [in 2014] in violation of international law," the office of German chancellor Angela Merkel also said.

Donald Tusk, the EU Council president, was even more outspoken.

"Under no condition can we agree with this logic," he said on dropping the G7 diplomatic sanctions while Russia continued to occupy Crimea.

"When Russia was invited to the G7 the first time, 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 with full conviction, not out of business calculation, that Russia is on that path?," Tusk added.

Iran surprise

The US and the EU have also been at odds on how to handle Iran.

Trump has walked out of an EU-backed nuclear arms control deal on Iran, reimposed economic sanctions, and threatened military strikes, while the EU has urged him to return to diplomacy.

"It was agreed that Iran should not get nuclear weapons," Germany said on Saturday's dinner.

Everyone wanted to "achieve this result through a negotiated solution" and "to bring this massive conflict in the direction that more conversations take place again," Merkel herself also said.

For his part, Macron opted to invite Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Zarif for talks in the margins of the G7 event.

Trump said he had "no comment" on Zarif's surprise visit and that his own talks with Macron had gone well.

But other US sources criticised the French move.

"This is completely disrespectful to Donald Trump and the other leaders at the G7. Iran supports terrorism at every turn and continues to pursue 'Death to America'. Manipulative of Macron to do this and very insincere," Nikki Haley, a US diplomat who used to be its UN ambassador, said on Twitter.

The EU and the US, its oldest ally on the world stage, also disagreed on trade.

Trump, prior to the G7, had threatened to impose tariffs on French wines in return for a new French tax on US tech firms.

But Tusk said that if he did so, then the EU would retaliate en bloc.

"If the US imposes tariffs on France, the EU will [respond] in kind," Tusk said.

He also bemoaned "senseless disputes" on trade more generally, alluding to Trump's existing tariff wars with the EU and China on other types of products.

EU discord on Brazil

That left Brazil's Amazon fires as the other major topic under discussion in France.

"The lungs of our entire earth are affected, so we need to find common solutions," Merkel said.

France and Ireland had earlier said the EU should block a free-trade deal with the Mercosur bloc of South American countries, including Brazil, to put pressure on Brazil's far-right leader to take action.

Finland had also said the EU should consider a ban on Brazilian beef imports.

But Germany and the UK indicated there was no agreement inside the EU on what kind of action to take.

The Mercosur trade veto was "not the appropriate answer to what is happening in Brazil now," Merkel's spokesman said.

"I think I would be reluctant to do anything at this very difficult time for global free trade, to cancel another trade deal," British prime minister Boris Johnson also said.

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