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Diplomats from G20 countries in fraught discussions over final summit statement

Marcos Brindicci, REUTERS| The G20 leaders pose for a 'family photo' during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 23, 2018.

Diplomats from the Group of 20 countries were haggling hard over a final summit statement Friday, with deep divisions over what language to use on the Paris climate accord and the WTO, say two European officials involved in the discussions.

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Facing the prospect of a no-statement summit, European delegations were trying to create a common front and may come out with their own separate declaration if they can't get the US or others on board. European leaders were meeting in the morning at the summit venue in the Argentine capital to stake out common positions on trade, climate and the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

France is seeking to build coalitions on certain issues or "ad hoc partnerships" to try to salvage the spirit of the G20 even if all countries can't agree, according to a French official.

The officials weren't authorised to be named speaking about the closed-door discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity.

FRANCE 24's Douglas Herbert gives his analysis

Ukraine crisis, Khashoggi murder loom over summit

The G20 was supposed to focus on issues like development, infrastructure and investment, but as the gathering officially kicked off, those themes seem like afterthoughts, overshadowed by contentious matters from the US-China trade dispute to the conflict over Ukraine.

European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU is expected to extend sanctions on Moscow over its "totally unacceptable" seizure of Ukrainian ships and their crews near Crimea.

"Europe is united in its support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Tusk said, calling the standoff "a cause of great concern".

Also expected to loom large amid dozens of bilateral meetings in Buenos Aires: the gruesome slaying of Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate and how the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who is alleged to have ordered the killing, is received by world leaders.

Saudi Arabia has denied that MBS played a role, but some leaders may be cool toward him to avoid seeming to legitimise a man who US intelligence agencies concluded ordered the killing. US President Donald Trump's administration has made clear it does not want to torpedo the longstanding US relationship with Riyadh, however.

It is the prince's first significant appearance overseas since the killing. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been sharply critical of Saudi Arabia over the incident, is also in attendance.

Leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico met in the morning to sign a trade deal replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement. The new deal, known as the USMCA, was struck following months of tough negotiations that analysts say left a bitter taste among the partners.

It must still be ratified by lawmakers in all three countries, and passage in the US could face a tough road in the House of Representatives after Democrats won a majority in November midterm elections.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Trump to remove tariffs on steel and aluminium, saying they remain a major economic obstacle.

That is while leaders from the BRICS group of leading emerging economies - which comprise Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - issued a statement calling for open international trade and a strengthening of the WTO.

"The spirit and rules of the WTO run counter to unilateral and protectionist measures," they said. "We call on all members to oppose such WTO-inconsistent measures, stand by their commitments undertaken in the WTO.

Trump-Putin meeting cancelled

An expected high-profile bilateral meeting between Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin planned for Saturday was abruptly cancelled by Trump the previous day in a tweet citing Russia's seizure of Ukrainian vessels over the weekend. Russian news agencies quoted Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the cancellation means Putin will have more time for "useful meetings".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was supposed to get in to Buenos Aires early Friday, but her arrival was delayed when her plane suffered a technical problem and returned to Germany on Thursday night.

Meanwhile the British Embassy in Argentina said Prime Minister Theresa May's visit would be the first by a UK prime minister to Argentina's capital. The only other prime minister to visit the country was Tony Blair, who went to Puerto Iguazu in 2001. The two countries have long been at odds over the Falkland Islands.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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