LONDON • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday opened the Group of Seven's (G-7) first in-person talks in two years by presenting Washington's fresh approach on North Korea, which has already denounced it.
With Covid-19 raging in India but increasingly coming under control in the West, Britain welcomed foreign ministers of the club of wealthy democracies to discuss a post-pandemic agenda and prepare for a G-7 summit in south-west England next month.
Besides its fellow G-7 members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US, Britain has also invited ministers from Australia, India, South Africa, South Korea and Asean bloc chair Brunei to the three-day talks.
Amid stringent Covid-19 measures, including movement curbs, Mr Blinken had separate meetings at his hotel with the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea, days after President Joe Biden completed a review on North Korea policy.
"We are grateful to have this opportunity to have in-depth discussions with the US after the conclusion of your policy review," South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said, as he welcomed the "very positive and open message" by Mr Biden in his address to Congress last week.
The US State Department said Mr Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi "shared their concerns about North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes".
They agreed to work together along with Japan's sometime rival South Korea "towards denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula", a statement said.
The department's spokesman Ned Price said both Mr Blinken and Mr Chung also reaffirmed the US-South Korea alliance as the "linchpin of peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the world", according to a pool report.
Mr Biden last week ordered an assessment of North Korea policy after his predecessor Donald Trump's unusual, highly personalised diplomacy that featured three made-for-television meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The review proposed a middle ground by moving away from Mr Trump's ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful bid for a far-reaching agreement that, after seven decades, could bring an official end to the Korean War. But the White House also said it would engage with North Korea, a shift from former president Barack Obama's policy of "strategic patience" - as in keeping Pyongyang at arm's length until its behaviour changes.
This week is being billed by Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the G-7, as a chance to reassert the West's influence and address issues such as recovery from Covid-19, climate change and how to deal with China and Russia.
The ministers will lay the groundwork for Mr Biden's first scheduled trip abroad since taking office: next month's G-7 summit meant to revive cooperation with traditional allies after years of friction under Mr Trump.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was expected to meet Mr Blinken to discuss shared goals before the meetings kicked off with dinner last night.
Britain is keen to capitalise on Mr Biden's willingness to re-engage with global efforts on climate change, and to restore a nuclear deal with Iran repudiated by Mr Trump. Mr Raab on Sunday said the G-7 would look at a proposal to build a rapid response mechanism to counter Russian disinformation and, in a reference to China, spoke of the need to stand up for open markets and democracy.
"On all of these areas we want to be absolutely firm, and standing shoulder to shoulder not just with Americans, as important as they are, but also with our wider allies - that's why the G-7 is so important," Mr Raab said.
He is also expected to discuss trade with Mr Blinken, as Britain seeks a so-far elusive deal touted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as one of the biggest opportunities for the country when it left the European Union.
After the G-7, Mr Blinken will head tomorrow to Ukraine in a show of support after Russia last month deployed but then pulled back some 100,000 troops along its border and in annexed Crimea.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS