GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, GERMANY —
The leaders of seven major industrialized democracies are meeting for their annual summit, with the first day devoted to the global economy and talks to liberalize trade rules. But the meeting will also focus on the continued fighting in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, which U.S. and German leaders agreed should remain in place.
The leaders also expected to discuss world crises including gains by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and the crises in Libya and Yemen. There are also the pressing issues related to China, which is building islands in the Pacific that could be used to control shipping lanes.
U.S. President Barack Obama said it is a list of “difficult challenges.”
“We’re going to discuss our shared future,” he said, “the global economy that creates jobs and opportunity, maintaining a strong and prosperous European Union, forging new trade partnerships across the Atlantic, standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine, combating threats from violent extremism to climate change.”
Russia was suspended from the group last year, after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. G7 countries are among the leaders of an extensive sanctions regime designed to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to change his policy.
Obama, Merkel united on continued sanctions
Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel say economic sanctions against Russia should only be eased with Moscow's full implementation of a shaky truce in eastern Ukraine to end fighting between pro-Russian insurgents and Kyiv's forces.
The American and German leaders met before the G7 summit in the Bavarian Alps. The White House said both leaders agreed the duration of the sanctions should be "clearly linked" to Moscow carrying out February's cease-fire deal and showing "respect for Ukraine's sovereignty."
More than half the meeting Obama had with Merkel was devoted "to the issue of Ukraine and the need for the G7, but also our European partners, to continue to show unity in confronting Russia over the destabilizing actions in Ukraine," the White House said in a statement.
Merkel told German public broadcaster ARD that Moscow should stay out of the G7 "community of values" over its actions in Ukraine. "There is a barrier at the moment and I cannot really see how it can be overcome," she said.
Another participant at the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk, said the European Union and the G7 leaders remain firm in their support of Ukraine in its fight against pro-Russian separatists.
The West accuses Moscow of supporting the insurgents in eastern Ukraine, a charge that Russia denies. The truce singed by Kyiv, Moscow and separatist rebels at talks mediated by Germany and France requires the warring sides to withdraw heavy weapons from the line of contact, but the provisions have been routinely violated.
Before meeting privately, Merkel and Obama drank beer and ate sausages at a table with local residents in the picturesque Alpine village of Kruen, a few kilometers from the summit site. Chancellor Merkel called the United States "our friend and our partner" and referred to the American leader as "dear Barack."
On Monday, the G7 leaders will be joined by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss the fight against Islamic State, and some African leaders will join the meetings for a discussion of development, women’s rights and health policy.
The leaders also want to agree on a climate change policy for a key meeting in Paris in December, where the goal will be to reach a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions.
G7 communiques on such issues are often greeted with indifference, but an international group of scholars that monitors the organization says they do follow through and do make a difference.
In its annual assessment, issued Sunday, the G7 Research Group based at the University of Toronto said on average the G7 countries complied with 80 percent of the commitments they made at their summit last year. Researchers say the G7 does make a difference, particularly on such issues as financial regulations, health care, helping refugees and infrastructure development in Africa.
Like all G7 summits and similar events, this one has attracted protesters who blame the big powers for many of the world’s problems. Chanting and singing, some of them briefly blocked roads in the area early Sunday, and one group walked across a field where protesters had been allowed to camp out, trying to reach the summit hotel.
More than 15,000 German security personnel are keeping the protesters at bay and ensuring the leaders are safe as they uphold the G7 tradition of spending a couple of days largely on their own, discussing the world’s most pressing issues.