(Bloomberg) -- Foreign ministers of Group of Seven nations are wrestling with how and whether to change the Iran nuclear deal as the U.S. wonders whether the pact can be saved.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, speaking to reporters Monday at a G-7 summit in Toronto, said he and counterparts discussed the Iran situation at length. His hope is to preserve the Iran deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action -- preferably with the U.S. -- rather than pick it apart.
“There’s a strong view around the table that we need to make a case for the JCPOA,” Johnson said. Despite “anxieties” about Iran’s behavior, he doesn’t want the U.S. to quit the deal but noted talks are underway for how to save it if that happens. “Clearly a lot of thought is going into how to keep a non-U.S. version,” he said. “Believe me, that is not our preferred option.”
The U.S. struck a different tone. Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan called on Iran to “strictly” abide by the deal and said U.S. President Donald Trump is “very concerned” about Iran’s behavior. “No one wants to see a nuclear-armed Iran,” and Trump wants to strengthen the Iran deal “if it can be strengthened,” he said.
The meeting began Sunday with a focus on Ukraine, Russia, North Korea, Syria, China and other issues. It’s being held with a notable exception; incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hasn’t yet been confirmed, leaving Sullivan to represent the U.S. Others attending include Germany’s Heiko Maas, Canada’s Chrystia Freeland and Japan’s Taro Kono.
Johnson said the G-7 would set up a group to study Russian interference in other democracies, although Freeland said the ministers would only recommend that leaders create such a group when they hold their G-7 meeting in June.
“Russia is so unbelievably clever at kind of sowing doubt and confusion and spreading all this fake news and trying to muddy the water, so we think there’s a role for the G-7 in just trying to provide some clarity about what we all collectively think the Russians are doing,” Johnson said.
Sullivan said the U.S. and all the G-7 are united in “confronting Russian malign behavior wherever we see it. Having said that, we also want to work with Russia in areas where we can and need to work with Russia.”
Freeland -- a Putin critic who began the meeting with a session on Ukraine -- said they spent considerable time discussing Russia. “We all shared deep concerns about what we agree is a wide pattern of unacceptable behavior,” she said, including the nerve agent attack in the U.K., “continued duplicity” on Syria, “disinformation campaigns” and action in Ukraine.
Ministers had already issued a statement supporting the joint strikes on Syria. The countries agreed Russia “must stop creating impediments to peace” and that it “must be a constructive partner in Syria, or will be held accountable,” Sullivan said. Japan “stressed that the political solution through the Geneva process is the only option” in Syria, said Toshihide Ando, deputy press secretary to Kono of Japan.
On North Korea, Sullivan called on countries to “rigorously enforce” sanctions. “International unity is essential as we continue to push diplomatic and economic pressure until the DPRK concedes to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.” Johnson praised Pompeo for his recent visit to North Korea, saying it’s “right to engage, right to talk.” The G-7 ministers agreed they should never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea, Ando said.
On Ukraine, the ministers “reaffirmed the importance of full implementation of the Minsk agreement,” Japan’s Ando said. Freeland also said the nations must take unified action on the Myanmar crisis, including by supporting refugees, and the U.S. pledged $50 million in funds for refugees in Bangladesh.
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