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G20 delegates reach compromise on declaration as leaders begin summit

2023-09-09T07:30:41Z

Delegates from the world’s most powerful countries have reached a compromise on language to describe the war in Ukraine, a source with knowledge of the discussions said, as their leaders began the annual G20 summit on Saturday in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of host India inaugurated the meeting by calling on members to end a “global trust deficit” and announced that the bloc was granting permanent membership to the African Union in an effort to make it more representative.

“Today, as the president of G20, India calls upon the entire world to first convert this global trust deficit into one trust and one confidence,” he said. “It is time for all of us to move together.”

The group is deeply divided over the war in Ukraine, with Western nations pushing for strong condemnation of Russia while others are demanding a focus on broader economic issues.

The sherpas, or country representatives, have reached a compromise on the language to be used in the final communique, which will be presented to the leaders, the source with knowledge of the negotiations said.

No details were immediately available, but it could be similar to the language in the communique issued in Indonesia at the 2022 summit, which noted that while most nations condemned Russia for the invasion, there were also divergent views.

At the start of the day, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of 20 were driven through deserted streets to a new, $300 million conch-shaped convention centre called Bharat Mandapam, opposite a 16th-century stone fort, for the two-day summit.

Many businesses, shops, offices and schools have been closed in the city of 20 million, and traffic restricted as part of security measures to ensure the smooth running of the most high-powered meeting to be hosted by the country. Slums have been demolished and monkeys and stray dogs removed from the streets.

According to an earlier draft of the summit declaration reviewed by Reuters, negotiators were unable to resolve disagreements over the wording on the war in Ukraine, leaving it to the leaders to reach a compromise if possible.

The 38-page draft that was circulated among members left the “geopolitical situation” paragraph blank, while it had agreed on 75 other paragraphs covering a range of issues.

Biden will press for a higher level of climate action from major countries at the summit, a White House official said, as concerns grow about lack of consensus on cutting emissions.

The G20 nations account for 80% of global emissions and their views are being keenly watched ahead of the COP 28 meeting in the United Arab Emirates.

Modi, in his opening remarks at the summit, invited the AU, represented by Chairperson Azali Assoumani, to take a seat at the table of G20 leaders as a permanent member.

The summit is expected to be dominated by the West and its allies. Chinese President Xi Jinping is skipping the meeting and has sent Premier Li Qiang instead, while Russia’s Vladimir Putin will also be absent.

Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman and Japan’s Fumio Kishida, among others, are attending.

The summit had been seen as affording a venue for a possible meeting between Xi and Biden following months of efforts by the two world powers to mend ties frayed by trade and geopolitical tensions.

“It’s incumbent upon the Chinese government to explain” why its leader “would or would not participate”, Jon Finer, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, told reporters in Delhi.

He said there was speculation that China is “giving up on G20” in favour of groupings like BRICS, where it is dominant.

BRICS includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and has agreed to add another six new members – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates – in a move aimed at accelerating its push to reshuffle a world order it sees as outdated.

G20 sherpas, or country negotiators, have been struggling to agree on the language because of differences over the Ukraine war, hoping to get Russia on board to produce what is called the Leaders’ Declaration.

Russia is being represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and he has said he will block the final declaration unless it reflects Moscow’s position on Ukraine and other crises.

One source told Reuters a joint declaration may or may not come to a unanimous agreement. It could have different paragraphs stating the views of different countries. Or it could record agreement and dissent in one paragraph.

According to another senior source in one of the G20 countries, the paragraph on the war on Ukraine had been agreed by Western countries and sent to Russia for its views.

The official said Russia had the option to accept Western countries’ views and give its dissent as part of the statement.

In the absence of an agreement, India will have to issue a chair statement, which would mean that G20 for the first time in 20 years of summits will not have a declaration.

A Leaders’ Declaration “is by far the best way to record what has been agreed, so that countries can be held to account in the future by external parties, and so that government systems know what their leaders have signed up to and what they need to do internally”, said Creon Butler, director for the global economy and finance programme at London’s Chatham House.

The differing views on the war have prevented agreement on even a single communique at ministerial meetings during India’s G20 presidency so far this year.

Related Galleries:

A general view of the venue for the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, September 9, 2023. REUTERS/Amit Dave

A general view of the venue for the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, September 9, 2023. REUTERS/Amit Dave

A girl watches as a monkey climbs a road sign on a street, on the day of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, September 9, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas


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