Fresh from a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken shifted his intense diplomacy on the Israel-Hamas war to Asia on Tuesday, as he and his counterparts from the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies began two days of talks in Japan.
The devastating monthlong conflict in Gaza and efforts to ease the dire humanitarian impacts of Israel's response to the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack were set to be a major focus of the meeting. Yet with the Russia-Ukraine war, fears North Korea may be readying a new nuclear test, and concerns about China's increasing global assertiveness, it is far from the only crisis on the agenda.
“Even as we are intensely focused on the crisis in Gaza, we’re also very much engaged and focused on the important work that we’re doing in the Indo-Pacific and in other parts of the world,” Blinken told reporters in Ankara, Turkey, before leaving the Middle East for Asia.
In Tokyo, Blinken and foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy will be looking for common ground on approaches to the Israel-Hamas war that threatens to destabilize already shaky security in the broader Middle East and seeking to maintain existing consensus positions on the other issues.
Before wrapping up the Mideast portion of his trip — a four-day whirlwind that included stops in Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, Cyprus, Iraq and Turkey — Blinken said he would brief his G7 colleagues on the status of his efforts, seeking their advice and pressing ahead.
“I’ll have an opportunity to debrief my colleagues on what we’ve learned and what we’ve done during this trip, and to continue that work and carry it forward,” he said.
Those efforts include significantly expanding the amount of humanitarian aid being sent to Gaza, pushing Israel to agree to “pauses” in its military operation to allow that assistance to get in and more civilians to get out, beginning planning for a post-conflict governance and security structure in the territory and preventing the war from spreading.
Blinken described all of these as “a work in progress” and acknowledged deep divisions over the pause concept. Israel remains unconvinced and Arab and Muslim nations are demanding an immediate full cease-fire, something the United States opposes. There has also been resistance to discussing Gaza's future, with the Arab states insisting that the immediate humanitarian crisis must be addressed first.
Securing agreement from G7 members, none of which border or are directly involved in the conflict, may be a slightly less daunting challenge for Blinken.
Since before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the G7 has held together in defense of the international order that emerged from the destruction of World War II. Despite some fraying around the edges, the group has preserved a unified front in condemning and opposing Russia’s war.
The group similarly has been of one voice in demanding that North Korea halt its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, that China exercise its growing international clout responsibly, and also in calling for cooperative actions to combat pandemics, synthetic opioids, and threats from the misuse of artificial intelligence.
Yet the Gaza crisis has inflamed international public opinion and democracies are not immune from intense passions that have manifested themselves in massive pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel demonstrations in G7 capitals and elsewhere.