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Amid discord, G7 ministers seek common ground on issues

DINARD, France (AP) — Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven advanced economies wrapped up a two-day meeting Saturday in the French seaside resort of Dinard, where they sought to find common ground on a range of contentious global challenges and lay the groundwork for August’s G-7 summit in Biarritz.

Diplomats from the G-7 countries — the United States, France, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy and the U.K., walked side-by-side in the fresh Brittany air to project a united front before a working lunch. They hoped to agree on a joint statement that touches on thorny issues such as the Middle East, drug trafficking, Africa’s troubled Sahel region, cybercrime and sexual violence against women in conflict zones, especially in Africa.

A European Union official expressed “regret” the proposed joint statement contained what she thinks are several glaring omissions, including “no reference to a two-state solution” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “no mention” of the United Nations Security Council’s resolution in favor of the Iran Nuclear deal.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not allowed to speak to press ahead of the document’s formal announcement.

Disagreement over the statement could set the stage for potential tensions at a G-7 summit scheduled for Aug. 25-27. Last June, U.S. President Donald Trump roiled the G-7 meeting in Canada by first agreeing to a group statement on trade only to withdraw support from it. Trump also caused disarray with an extraordinary set of tweets.

On Saturday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was missing from the final group photo after attending Friday’s session, as was U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, raising questions about the relevance of the G-7 meeting.

U.S. officials said points of discord were on the agenda at the talks led by the host, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said that Washington will use the G-7 forum to galvanize support for democracy and for Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido, who the U.S. has backed to lead the country into a “democratic transformation from the failed regime” of President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaido has embarked on an international campaign to topple the socialist administration of Venezuela’s president amid deepening unrest in the country, which has been plagued by nearly a month of power outages.

Washington seems to be at odds with Italy over its stance on the crisis-hit South American country, being the sole G-7 member state to not back the opposition leader.

The U.S. and Canada have pursued a pro-active stance on widening support for Guaidó, according to French officials.  But there has already been widespread alarm after he was stripped of immunity by Maduro loyalists earlier this week.

“We don’t want the situation to escalate,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Dinard on Saturday. “We are still of the opinion that free elections should take place during which Venezuelans can decide themselves who will lead the country.”

Italy has also irked EU and U.S. allies by becoming the first G-7 member to sign up to a contentious Chinese plan to build a Silk Road-style global trade network, the trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

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