After a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has shifted his intense diplomacy on the Israel-Hamas war to Asia with an appeal for the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrial democracies to forge consensus on how to deal with the crisis.
As he and his G7 counterparts began two days of talks in Japan, Blinken said it was important for the group to show unity – as it has over Russia’s war in Ukraine and other major issues – and prevent existing differences on Gaza from deepening.
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“This is a very important moment as well for the G7 to come together in the face of this crisis and to speak, as we do, with one clear voice,” Blinken told Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, shortly after talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
The devastating monthlong conflict in Gaza and efforts to ease the dire humanitarian impacts of the Israeli assault will be a major focus of the meeting.
Yet with the Russia-Ukraine war, fears North Korea may be readying a new nuclear test, and concerns about China’s increasing global assertiveness, it is far from the only crisis on the agenda.
In Tokyo, Blinken and foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy will be seeking common ground in part to prevent the Gaza war from further destabilising already shaky security in the broader Middle East and seeking to maintain existing positions on other matters.
Israel, after a surprise attack on October 7 by Hamas – the group that rules Gaza, and that on October 7 and in its aftermath killed more than 1,400 people in Israel – has waged a monthlong assault on Gaza, relentlessly bombarding the enclave and sending in ground forces for the first time since 2014.
Israeli attacks have during this time killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, more than a third of them children, according to Gaza’s officials, while displacing 1.5 million people and decimating much of the territory’s infrastructure.
An early consensus on Gaza appeared to be building as at least four of the G7 members made statements in favour of a strong common stance.
Kishida said “the unity of G7 is needed more than ever with the situation in Israel and Palestine, the situation in Ukraine, and the challenges in the Indo-Pacific region,” his office said in a statement, adding that the prime minister “highly appreciates the leadership and diplomatic efforts by the Biden administration concerning this issue”.
“You have our utmost support,” Kamikawa told Blinken, the top diplomat in the administration of United States President Joe Biden.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that “as G7 countries, we are making clear that Israel has the right and the duty to protect its population and its people in the framework of international law”.
She said that she has been discussing with many partners “how we can finally get humanitarian ceasefires off the ground, in terms of time and also geographically”.
United Kingdom Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told journalists his government only supports a time and geographically specific “humanitarian pause” and not a wider ceasefire.
“Firstly, we have seen and heard absolutely nothing that makes us believe that Hamas leadership is serious about [a] ceasefire,” he said, adding that a ceasefire would hamper Israel’s ability to defend itself.
The US has provided firm backing to Israel, offering it a $14.5bn military aid package amid the war and voting with it against a “humanitarian truce” at the United Nations General Assembly last month.
France voted in favour of the “humanitarian truce” while all other G7 member countries abstained.
Blinken has said Washington is working “very aggressively” to expand aid for trapped civilians in Gaza.
“I think we will see in the days ahead that the assistance can expand in significant ways,” Blinken said on Monday, without providing details.
Renewed support for Ukraine
Another focus of the G7 meet-up will be Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has lost global attention due to the bloodshed in Gaza.
The G7 was expected to stick to firm language condemning Moscow and reaffirm its commitment to Ukraine.
“Our commitment to continue strict sanctions against Russia and strong support for Ukraine has not wavered at all, even as the situation in the Middle East intensifies,” Japan’s FM Kamikawa told a news conference before the meeting.
The gathering will include a virtual meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
The G7 has been at the forefront of sanctions on Russia since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
In the latest move aimed at ramping up economic pressure on Russia, the group is considering proposals to impose sanctions on Russian diamonds.
Strengthening Japan-UK ties
UK Foreign Secretary Cleverly is set to meet Kamikawa on the sidelines of the gathering to discuss intensifying military cooperation with Japan under a new pact that allows their countries’ militaries to enter each other’s territories for joint exercises.
These talks, also featuring UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and Japan’s Defence Minister Minoru Kihara, are likely to include expanding joint exercises and cooperation in new areas such as space and cybersecurity, based on the Japan-UK Hiroshima Accord reached in May.
Japan in December announced a new mid- to long-term security strategy to build up its security and defence – including counterstrike capability – in a significant shift from its self-defence-only principle adopted after the last world war.
Eyeing Central Asia
Foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries are also expected to participate online in the Tokyo gathering, as the grouping aims to deepen ties to the region amid the Ukraine war.
Ministers of former Soviet nations Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will join for talks on Wednesday.
G7 leaders have recently increased outreach to these resource-rich countries, with French President Emmanuel Macron making stops in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan last week during his Central Asia tour, and Japanese PM Kishida planning a similar trip in 2024.