G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting Reveals Discord on Middle East

On April 5–6, 2019, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations revealed stark differences in views on the Middle East and other key issues as they wrapped up their two-day meeting in Dinard, France. The meeting opened with the goal of finding common ground on contentious global challenges, but was overshadowed by the conspicuous absence of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other global troubles ranging from Brexit to Libya.

After a two-day meeting in Dinard, the foreign ministers issued a mildly worded joint communiqué on a rules-based international order, regional crises, non-proliferation and disarmament, terrorism and transnational security, conflict prevention, and support for the United Nations. The ministers also released declarations on issues such as fighting cybercrime, giving women bigger post-conflict roles in maintaining peace, and engaging with countries in Africa’s Sahel region to combat drugs and migrant trafficking.

Although the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven adopted joint commitments on how to better handle the world’s security challenges, their divergent views on sensitive topical issues, such as Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could set the stage for tensions at the August summit of the leaders of the G7 advanced economies.

A European Union official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed “regret” the document had what she considered to be several glaring omissions that conflicted with non-negotiable positions of the EU. They included “no reference to a two-state solution” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “no mention” of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 endorsing the Iran nuclear deal, which France, Britain, and Germany continue to abide by. The language used to describe the G7’s deep concern over Iran’s “continuing support for terrorist organizations and armed militias” was not language EU members tend to use, the EU official said. The foreign ministers’ joint communiqué also acknowledged “clear differences” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after “an exchange of views.”

Japanese officials said there were also points of discord on other Middle East issues at the meeting hosted by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his European G7 peers were apparently at odds with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, who attended the meeting in Pompeo’s place, over Trump’s recognition last month of the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

The ministers also discussed how to deal with citizens who joined Daesh militants in Syria and Iraq — yet still have different views on the issue. The U.S. wants countries to take back their citizens and put them on trial, if necessary, but Western countries have largely refused to do so. France wants these foreign fighters to go on trial in the places where they committed their crimes and Germany raised the idea of creating a specific international criminal court to try them. All G7 countries stressed the risk that the fighters will scatter and committed to “ensure that all foreign terrorist fighters who are or were in conflict zones are held accountable for their actions.”

The diplomats in attendance also projected some differences on Venezeula. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said Washington would use the G7 forum to galvanize support for Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader who has embarked on a campaign to topple the socialist administration of President Nicolas Maduro. But according to reporters, the meeting failed to change the position of Italy, the sole G7 member state not to back Guaido. “We spoke about it. The Italian position on Venezuela is pretty clear,” said Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero. “It is an extremely difficult situation, especially in light of the humanitarian emergency that weighs the most in our hearts.”

Italy also has irritated EU and U.S. allies by becoming the first G7 member to sign up to China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative, a massive trade project that aims to connect China with dozens of countries around the world. There was no reference to the contentious trillion-dollar plan in the foreign ministers statements.

“Despite the crisp air of Dinard, we couldn’t overcome some of our differences,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at the end of a two-day meeting in western France.

French President Emmanuel Macron is hoping to push an ambitious agenda at the G7 summit on August 24–26, 2019, in the resort of Biarritz, for which the foreign ministers meeting is meant to prepare.

Duja is a Senior Research Analyst at the G7 & G20 Research Groups, University of Toronto and a former advisor at the 2020 G20 Presidency.