G7 leaders can’t avoid Iran at summit with Trump, say European diplomats

OTTAWA — Donald Trump’s decision Tuesday to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement will be a topic of discussion at next month’s G7 summit in Quebec’s Charlevoix region, European diplomats say.

It will join trade issues among the more potentially charged topics that could highlight divisions between the mercurial U.S. president and his G7 counterparts — an unenviable position for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he hosts them for two days of talks.

The European ambassadors, who were taking part in a panel discussion on the upcoming summit, played down the potential for divisions with the U.S. — including the potential for a new G6 configuration that would exclude America — saying the small exclusive club of the world’s richest countries could handle a round of frank discussion.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed Canada’s regret over the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which she called “essential” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability and ensuring global security.

“Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons,” Freeland said in a written statement. “The JCPOA has subjected Iran’s nuclear program to a rigorous and unprecedented international verification regime by the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

She acknowledged that the deal, agreed to by Iran in 2015 and endorsed by the United Nations, “is not perfect. It has, however, helped to curb a real threat to international peace and security.”

Freeland noted that just two weeks ago, G7 foreign ministers unanimously committed to “permanently ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful, in line with its non-proliferation treaty obligations and its commitments under the (JCPOA).”

“Canada regrets that the United States has decided to withdraw from the JCPOA, particularly given that, according to the IAEA, Iran continues to implement its JCPOA commitments,” she said.

Many of Canada’s western allies similarly expressed their disappointment at Trump’s decision, which served as a harbinger of how fast-moving global events can upset the carefully scripted G7 agenda that Trudeau will be trying to advance.

“It is evident that actually this will be one of the topics to be discussed at the summit,” Peteris Ustubs, the European Union ambassador to Canada, said of Trump’s decision.

But Ustubs dismissed any suggestion that the U.S. position had potential to “diminish and change the formulation” of the club to a G6.

“We should avoid thinking that (the) G7 is only the club of the convenient conversations,” said Ustubs. “If there are conversations which are inconvenient that’s the part of the G7 conversations.”

The European Union is a full-fledged member of the G7, but it does not have so-called numbered status.

Germany’s ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser, said the G7 has always been a forum where there is room for disagreement and discussion.

But she said it is no secret that the U.S. decision on Iran is “a blow” to what was an important diplomatic victory. ”We thought the deal as such made the world a little bit safer for the time being,” she said.

Sparwasser said it was too early to comment on all the implications of Trump’s decision, but “we will try to salvage what we can.”

French ambassador Kareen Rispal, whose country takes over the G7 presidency from Canada next year, said the group would overcome its obstacles.

“We can’t exclude any state or any country that has a difference of view,” she said. “Yes, it’s a risk to have a communique with 6 plus 1, but I think everybody is trying to avoid this kind of situation because we would go nowhere.”

Earlier Tuesday at the same symposium, Trudeau’s chief G7 organizer said that the world leaders simply cannot avoid a discussion of thorny trade issues.

Peter Boehm, the Canadian sherpa, didn’t mention Trump by name, but he too was addressing the same day-long conference focused on how to shape Canadian foreign policy in the age of the disruptive, protectionist influence of the current U.S. president.

“I’m afraid we can’t avoid a trade discussion in Charlevoix,” Boehm told the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“We’re aware that this is a challenging issue within the G7, particularly with the backdrop of steel and aluminum tariffs and NAFTA negotiations.”

Despite the challenges, Boehm said the G7 leaders may be able to reach an agreement on the need for a revitalized World Trade Organization.

“Canada and its G7 partners need to remain committed to working together on strengthening the rules-based trading system, fighting protectionism and encouraging free trade so that all citizens can take advantage,” said Boehm.

The day-long gathering of foreign policy experts, diplomats and academics took place under the banner, “Positioning Canada in the Shifting International Order.”

That shift referred mainly to Trump and the wrecking ball that many say he has taken to the world’s multilateral institutions.

Rona Ambrose, the former Conservative cabinet minister who is an adviser on the government’s non-partisan NAFTA panel, told the gathering that Canadians can no longer adhere to the “romantic notion” that Canada and the U.S. remain best friends and allies.

That said, a deal on NAFTA that all three countries could live with is still possible, she insisted, crediting the Liberal government with doing everything it can do get a deal with the unpredictable Trump administration.

Peter Donolo,who was communications chief to former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien, said Trump won’t be satisfied with any NAFTA outcome that does not allow him to declare all-out victory.

“He will define a success as, ‘We’ve won, we’ve won big time; Canada and Mexico are eating dust; they’re eating dirt, they’re done; they’re humiliated.’”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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