Gaza, Ukraine loom large as G20 foreign ministers meet

Gaza, Ukraine loom large as G20 foreign ministers meet

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making his first trip to Brazil since becoming the top US diplomat over three years ago
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making his first trip to Brazil since becoming the top US diplomat over three years ago. Photo: EVARISTO SA / AFP
Source: AFP

Foreign ministers of the G20 group of nations open a two-day meeting Wednesday in Brazil, with a bleak outlook for progress on a thorny agenda of conflicts and crises, from the Gaza and Ukraine wars to growing polarization.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both headed to Rio de Janeiro for the first high-level G20 meeting of the year.

China's top diplomat Wang Yi has opted not to attend, sending Executive Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ma Zhaoxu instead.

In a world torn by conflicts and divisions, Brazil, which took over the rotating G20 presidency from India in December, has voiced hopes for what President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva calls the "forum with the greatest capacity to positively influence the international agenda."

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But Lula's bid to make the G20 a space for finding common ground likely took a hit Sunday when the veteran leftist ignited a diplomatic firestorm by accusing Israel of "genocide," comparing its military campaign in the Gaza Strip to the Holocaust.

The comments drew outrage in Israel, which declared him "persona non grata," and could overshadow any bid to de-escalate the conflict via the G20.

"If Lula imagined he was going to propose peace resolutions on Israel or Ukraine, that just got swept off the table," international relations specialist Igor Lucena told AFP.

More than four months after the Gaza war started with Hamas fighters' unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which vows to wipe out the Islamist group in retaliation, there is little sign of progress toward peace.

A new UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire was vetoed Tuesday by the United States.

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The outlook is similarly grim on Russia's war in Ukraine, which also has G20 members divided.

Despite a push by Western countries to condemn President Vladimir Putin's invasion, the G20's last summit ended with a watered-down statement denouncing the use of force but not explicitly naming Russia, which maintains friendly ties with India and Brazil, among other members.

Britain announced Wednesday it was imposing sanctions on six Russian officials over opposition leader Alexei Navalny's death in prison last week, and Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he planned to use the Rio meeting to "call out Russia's aggression" directly to Lavrov.

"No one should doubt the oppressive nature of the Russian system," Cameron said in a statement.

Underlining the G20 stalemate, the G7 group of top economies -- Ukrainian allies Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- will hold its own virtual meeting on the war Saturday, the second anniversary of Russia's invasion.

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'Putting out fires'

The G20 meeting will open with a session on "addressing international tensions."

The ministers will discuss global governance reform Thursday -- a favorite issue for Brazil, which wants a greater voice for the global south at institutions such as the UN, IMF and World Bank.

"The number and gravity of conflicts has returned to the level of the Cold War," said Brazil's top diplomat for G20 political negotiations, Mauricio Lyrio.

A G20 Brazil sign is seen in front of Rio de Janeiro's iconic Sugarloaf Mountain
A G20 Brazil sign is seen in front of Rio de Janeiro's iconic Sugarloaf Mountain. Photo: Pablo PORCIUNCULA / AFP
Source: AFP

"We need to adapt the international system to prevent new conflicts," he told journalists Tuesday. "Now, we're just putting out fires."

Brazil also wants to use its G20 presidency to push the fights against poverty and climate change.

There will also be space for bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the gathering -- though a Blinken-Lavrov encounter looks unlikely, given soaring tensions.

The pair last met in person at a G20 gathering in India in March 2023.

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Blinken held what he called a "very good meeting" with Lula Wednesday morning in Brasilia before flying to Rio.

Election-year havoc

Founded in 1999, the Group of 20 brings together most of the world's biggest economies.

Originally an economic forum, it has grown increasingly involved in international politics.

But the prospects for major advances via the group are dim in a year when elections will be held in some 50 countries, including key G20 members such as the United States and Russia, said Lucena.

A Brazilian government source said that after recent G20 struggles for consensus, the hosts axed the requirement that every meeting produce a joint statement -- with the exception of the annual leaders' summit, scheduled for November in Rio.

Source: AFP

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