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G7 toughens Russia stance but Iran deal in the balance

© AFP / by Dave Clark | British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said his colleagues had shown "strong G7 solidarity" with this month's US, French and British air strikes on Syrian chemical sites

TORONTO (CANADA) (AFP) - 

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven vowed to defend their "democracy" against attacks from Vladimir Putin's Russia on Monday in a show of solidarity from the world's richest industrialized economies.

Canada's Chrystia Freeland, host of the Toronto talks, said Russia must pay a price for undermining Western elections, using nerve agent in an attempted assassination of a Russian double agent on British soil, and intervening in Ukraine and Syria.

Her British counterpart Boris Johnson said his colleagues had backed London over the Salisbury poisoning attack and shown "strong G7 solidarity" with this month's US, French and British air strikes on Syrian chemical weapons installations.

Both said the members would set up a working group ahead of the full G7 summit in June, where the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States may decide on tougher action against Moscow.

"You can see the G7, this group of industrialized liberal democracies coming together to vindicate our values here in Canada, and I think you see the groundwork for an excellent G7 summit at Charlevoix," Johnson said.

Freeland told reporters: "We are working to that idea and that idea is to have a group in G7 to work together, to work against disinformation and to protect democracy."

The acting US secretary of state, John Sullivan -- who may be replaced this week if outgoing CIA chief Mike Pompeo is confirmed as Washington's top diplomat -- did not commit President Donald Trump to specific action.

But he too spoke out against Russia's "malign activity ... whether it's in Salisbury or its support for the use of chemical weapons by Assad's regime in Syria."

- Iran deal still up in air -

But, while the G7 members were united in their condemnation of Russia and, in Johnson's phrase, "its support of an connivance in" Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons attacks, they made little progress on securing the Iran deal.

Trump has warned that if alleged flaws weakening the 2015 deal are not fixed to his satisfaction by May 12, he may refuse to waive US nuclear sanctions on Iran, effectively torpedoing the deal.

Iran has warned that it may resume its nuclear program faster than before -- although it still insists it has no plan to build an atomic weapon -- and European capitals have all but begged Trump to stay the execution of the accord.

London, Berlin and Paris have been working with US envoys to produce a "supplemental" agreement to impose restrictions on Iran's missile program, in the hope of appeasing the US leader's concerns about the broader deal.

But US officials are also concerned about the so-called "sunset clauses" in the original accord, which would allow Iran to progressively resume uranium enrichment from 2025, and Trump wants the deal itself updated.

There seems little prospect of Iran or China and Russia, fellow signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, agreeing to that, and G7 ministers argued that the structure itself should remain.

France's President Emmanuel Macron arrived in the United States on Monday for a state visit and talks with Trump, and Johnson said there was "not a wafer" or difference between London and Paris on the Iran deal.

"We think that it's a valuable agreement. We think it's one of the great achievements of collective diplomacy over the last couple of decades," he told reporters.

And, even if Washington pulls out, European capitals will try to keep the accord alive somehow.

"We don't want to see that outcome, but plainly a lot of thought is going into how to keep a non-US version of the JCPOA," he said.

After the foreign affairs meeting, the ministers were joined by their domestic security counterparts and discussions were widened to encompass counterterrorism and cyber security.

by Dave Clark

© 2018 AFP