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Syria Remains Top of G8 Agenda - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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G8 Foreign Ministers pose for a photograph before the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting at Lancaster House in central London. (REUTERS/Peter Macdiarmid/Pool)

G8 Foreign Ministers pose for a photograph before the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting at Lancaster House in central London. (REUTERS/Peter Macdiarmid/Pool)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—On the second and final day of the G8 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in London, the Syrian crisis remained firmly top of the agenda.

G8 ministers met for the final time on Thursday in London. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague hosted his counterparts from the G8 countries to discuss his key policy priorities during the two-day forum. Foreign ministers from the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy gathered at Lancaster House this morning to continue discussions.

The deteriorating security situation in Syria remained top of the agenda. “Syria of course was the most urgent foreign policy issue that we discussed,” Hague told reporters on Thursday.

The G8 ministers concluded that their immediate priorities would be increasing humanitarian access to Syria and ensuring that donors who had pledged financial assistance at the Kuwait conference fulfill their commitments.

The G8 also committed to support the countries that are currently sheltering Syrian refugees. The ministers welcomed the UN Secretary General’s announcement of an investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Earlier this week the United Kingdom, US, and France held separate talks with the Syrian National Coalition. They discussed further ways in which to support the Syrian opposition, particularly the provision of humanitarian aid and how to achieve a political solution to the situation in Syria.

Hague admitted that the G8 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting had failed to bridge divisions over how to solve the current crisis in Syria. There had been little progress on a diplomatic solution to the situation. “Have we solved the tragedy in Syria, no we haven’t,” stated Hague.

G8 ministers are divided over their position towards the Syrian crisis in particular the issue of arming the rebel groups. France and Britain are expected to again press the case for amending or lifting the EU arms embargo on Syria in late May. US Secretary of State John Kerry refused to commit to arming the rebels after meeting with the Syrian National Coalition earlier this week.

The UK Foreign Secretary displayed frustration at the international community’s inaction on the Syrian crisis; “the world has failed so far in its responsibilities . . . because it is divided,” he said.

Hague boldly stated that the crisis “is on track to be the biggest humanitarian catastrophe of the twenty-first century so far.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, warned that neither side can win the battle in Syria, according to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti.

William Hague noted that the United Kingdom’s policy on support for the Syrian opposition had not changed since confirmation of Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s alliance with the Al-Nusra Front rebel group in Syria. Hague did however voice concern that Syria was fast becoming the number one destination for jihadist groups.

North Korea’s threats were also high on the agenda amid fears that the country is preparing further missile tests after issuing threats against South Korea, Japan, and US military bases in the region. The G8 vowed to take further significant measures if North Korea were to launch another missile or nuclear test.

The ministers also discussed the outcome of the recent talks on Iran’s nuclear program between the E3+3 and Iran, which William Hague described as “disappointing.” Hague said that Tehran’s position falls short of what is needed for a breakthrough on the issue.

The G8 ministers made clear that their patience with Iran is wearing thin. “Many ministers were clear that the window for diplomacy will not remain open forever.” Hague indicated that the second half of this year, following Iranian elections in June, would be crucial to test Iran’s sincerity in resolving the issue. The ministers concluded that they would continue to proceed with a two-pronged approach of negotiations and sanctions.

The UK Foreign Secretary also highlighted his personal initiative at the meeting, the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), to combat the use of rape and sexual violence in war.

The G8 adopted a declaration to provide clear guidance on gathering and documenting evidence of sexual violence in conflict zones. The group stated that rape and sexual violence are grave violations of the Geneva Convention. The UK Foreign Secretary detailed that the United Kingdom will provide GBP 10 million of the total GBP 23 million in new funding for the initiative from the G8.

The Foreign Ministers’ Meeting is a preliminary gathering ahead of the principal G8 summit to be held in Northern Ireland later this year. The United Kingdom assumed the one-year Presidency of the G8 at the beginning of the year.