Biden, G7 leaders focus on Ukraine, Gaza, global infrastructure, Africa

BORGO EGNAZIA, ITALY — U.S. President Joe Biden is in Apuglia, Italy, meeting with leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies Thursday, aiming to address global economic security amid wars in Europe and the Middle East and U.S. rivalry with China.

The G7 leaders arrived at the luxury resort of Borgo Egnazia, the summit venue, welcomed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Meloni’s hard-right party took nearly 29% of the vote in last weekend’s European Parliament election, making her the only leader of a major Western European country to emerge from the ballots stronger.

Meanwhile Biden is dealing with a contentious reelection campaign against Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump, and a personal ordeal. On Tuesday, a day before departing for the summit, his son, Hunter, was found guilty on federal charges for possessing a gun while being addicted to drugs.

Still, Biden came to the summit hoping to convince the group to provide a $50 billion loan to Ukraine using interest from Russian frozen assets, and deal with Chinese overcapacity in strategic green technologies, including electric vehicles. 

The European Union signaled their support by announcing duties on Chinese EVs a day ahead of the summit, a move that echoed the Biden administration’s steep tariff hike on Chinese EVs and other key sectors in May.

Biden is also lending his support to key themes in Meloni’s presidency – investing in Africa, international development, and climate change. Those topics were covered in the opening session of the G7 on Thursday, followed by discussions on the Gaza and Ukraine wars. 

Gaza cease-fire

With cease-fire negotiations at a critical juncture, Biden could face tough questions from leaders on whether he is doing enough to pressure Israel to pause its military campaign, reduce civilian casualties and provide more aid for Palestinians.

Leaders are “focused on one thing overall; getting a cease-fire in place and getting the hostages home as part of that,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told VOA as he spoke to reporters on board Air Force One en route to Italy. Biden has “their full backing,” Sullivan added.

Leaders will also discuss increasing tension along the Israeli border with Lebanon, Sullivan told reporters Thursday morning. 

“They’ll compare notes on the continuing threat posed by Iran both with respect to its support for proxy forces and with respect to the Iranian nuclear program,” he added.

While the group has thrown its weight behind the cease-fire, G7 members are split on other Gaza-related issues, including the International Criminal Court’s decision last month to seek arrest warrants for the leaders of Hamas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The United States denounced the court’s decision, and Britain called it “unhelpful.” France said it supports the court’s “fight against impunity,” while Berlin said it would arrest Netanyahu on German soil should a warrant is released.

Sullivan dismissed a United Nations inquiry result released Wednesday that alleges both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes and grave violations of international law.

“We’ve made our position clear,” he told VOA, referring to a review published in April by the State Department concluding that Israel’s campaign did not violate international humanitarian law.

Russian assets

Biden is pushing G7 leaders to provide Kyiv with a loan of up to $50 billion that will be paid back to Western allies using interest income from the $280 billion Russian assets frozen in Western financial institutions, estimated at $3 billion a year, for 10 years or more.

The goal is a leaders declaration at the end of the summit, a “framework that is not generic, that is quite specific in terms of what it would entail,” Sullivan told VOA Wednesday. Core operational details would still need to be worked out, he added. 

In April, Biden signed legislation to seize the roughly $5 billion in Russian assets that had been immobilized in U.S. financial institutions. The bulk of the money, though, $190 billion, is in Belgium, and much of the rest is in France and Germany.

“There’s a tension here between a Biden administration ambition on an issue in which they do not have the final say, hitting against very staunch European fiscal conservatism and simply the mechanics of, how do you get something done in Europe in the week of European [parliamentary] elections,” Kristine Berzina, managing director of Geostrategy North at the German Marshall Fund think tank, told VOA.

Attending the summit for the second consecutive year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is advocating for the deal to pass. He and Biden will sign a separate bilateral security agreement outlining U.S. support for Ukraine and speak in a joint press conference Thursday evening.

From Italy, Zelenskyy heads to Switzerland for a Ukraine peace conference over the weekend.

Africa, climate change and development

Meloni, a far-right politician who once called for a naval blockade to prevent African migrants from crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, now wants to achieve the goal by bolstering international investments to the continent.

Most of the nearly 261,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean Sea from northern Africa in 2023 entered Europe through Italy, according to the United Nations.

She has aligned her G7 presidency with this agenda, and the group is set to release a statement on providing debt relief for low- and middle-income countries, dealing with irregular migration and calling for more investments in Africa.

The G7 statement will reflect the Nairobi/Washington vision that Biden signed with Kenyan President William Ruto, Sullivan said.

Meloni invited several African leaders as observers to the G7 meeting, including Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Tunisia’s Kais Saied, Kenyan President William Ruto and Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, the president of Mauritania. The invitation follows the first Italy-Africa summit in Rome in January, where Meloni launched her investment initiative called the Mattei Plan for Africa.

The Mattei Plan has been integrated into the G7’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which aims to mobilize $600 billion private infrastructure funding by 2027 as an alternative to Chin’s Belt and Road initiative.

On climate change, the G7 has an uphill climb. None of the group’s members are on track to meet their existing emission reduction targets for 2030 to align with the Paris Agreement goal, according to data compiled by Climate Analytics.

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