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News / Nation & World

The G7 eyes targeted sanctions on Iran and a message of restraint as ministers meet in Italy

By TRISHA THOMAS and NICOLE WINFIELD, TRISHA THOMAS and NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
Published: April 17, 2024, 8:36am

CAPRI, Italy (AP) — Group of Seven foreign ministers are meeting on the Italian resort island of Capri, with the agenda topped by calls Wednesday for targeted new sanctions against Iran over its attack against Israel and more aid to Ukraine to fight Russia’s war.

Under Italy’s rotating stewardship, the G7 leaders are expected to issue a united call for Israel to exercise restraint after Iran’s unprecedented weekend attack involving hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles fired toward the Jewish state.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Italy supported targeted new sanctions against Tehran, specifically against the makers of drones used in the weekend attack and others launched by Tehran-backed militias in Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen.

“So for example, people sending drones to Houthi? Sanctions,” Tajani said, adding that other European Union foreign ministers agreed and that he expected the G7 ministers to also discuss possible new sanctions this week in Capri.

Tajani is to meet later Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

With Israel’s war in Gaza in its sixth month, Tehran’s attack added a new element of urgency to the three-day meeting of foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also called for new sanctions against Tehran and was making a last-minute visit to Israel before arriving on Capri later Wednesday.

“We will discuss how a further escalation with more and more violence can be prevented,” she said. “Because what matters now is to put a stop to Iran without encouraging further escalation.”

Germany, a staunch ally of Israel, has been among the chorus of European and U.S. leaders urging Israel to de-escalate tensions and not retaliate for Tehran’s attack, which was largely repelled thanks to U.S. and allied help.

In Washington, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said expected new U.S. sanctions would target Iran’s missile and drone program and entities supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s Defense Ministry.

“We anticipate that our allies and partners will soon be following with their own sanctions,” Sullivan said in a statement.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he would push for “coordinated sanctions against Iran” at the meeting. He argued that Tehran was orchestrating “so much of the malign activity in this region” from Hamas in Gaza, to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon to the Houthi rebels in Yemen who are behind attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

“They need to be given a clear and unequivocal message by the G-7 and I hope that will happen,” Cameron told broadcasters during a visit to Israel.

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Russia’s two-year war in Ukraine is also high on the agenda, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg invited to the Capri meeting on Thursday as guests. Kuleba is expected to repeat his country’s need for essential military support, including artillery, ammunition, and air defense systems to bolster its capacity as Russia pushes along the front line.

“If we want to achieve peace, we need to have a position without the defeat of the Ukrainian army,” Tajani told AP in Capri, acknowledging the holdup in U.S. funding was hurting Ukraine militarily but expressing hope that the impasse would be resolved.

“We believe it is important to back (Ukraine) also at the military level with weapons,” he said.

The United States and several European countries are discussing proposals to use the profits generated from billions of euros of frozen Russian assets to help provide weapons and other funds for Ukraine, proposals that have gathered steam as U.S. efforts to get new funds for weapons have stalled in Congress.

At the European Union level, EU leaders are to discuss the proposal at a summit Wednesday in Brussels. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, meanwhile, is expected in Capri.

Tajani said Italy was “absolutely in favor” of the proposal in principal but was awaiting a more detailed analysis of the legality of such a move.

The 27-nation EU is holding around 200 billion euros ($217 billion) in Russian central bank assets, most of it frozen in Belgium, in retaliation for Moscow’s war against Ukraine. The bloc estimates that the interest on that money could provide around 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) each year.

The Biden administration is also looking into the possibility of tapping into Russian assets. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday she will meet separately with G7 finance ministers to discuss, among other things, Russian sovereign assets.

“We’re looking at a series of possibilities ranging from actually seizing the assets to using them as collateral,” she told reporters in Washington.

She said Ukraine needs more help and she fears that Russia is beginning to see signs that the U.S. and its allies are “”tiring and finding it more difficult to find ways to support Ukraine.”

“That makes us focused on finding a way to unlock economic value and a stream of resources from the Russian sovereign assets” that have been immobilized, she said.

The European Central Bank has warned in the past against seizing Russian assets themselves as this could undermine confidence in the euro currency and EU markets. But Borrell has said that under the EU plan, no assets would be taken, only the windfall profits they make.

On the Mideast front, tensions have ramped up since the start of the latest Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two militant groups backed by Iran, carried out a devastating cross-border attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel responded with an offensive in Gaza that has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,800 people, according to local health officials.

World leaders have urged Israel not to retaliate after Iran launched a revenge mission that pushed the Middle East closer to a regionwide war. The attack happened less than two weeks after a suspected Israeli strike in Syria killed two Iranian generals in an Iranian consular building.

Winfield reported from Naples, Italy. Fatima Hussein in Washington and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed.

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