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G7 Foreign Ministers Seek U.S. Clarity Over Syria

ISE, JAPAN - MAY 27:  Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (L-3), European Council President Donald Tusk (R-2), British Prime Minister David Cameron (R-4), U.S. President Barack Obama (L-5), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L-10), European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R-9), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R-6), UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (L-2) and French President Francois Hollande (L-8) attend a meeting during the G7 leaders summit at the Shima Kanko Hotel in Ise, Japan on May 26, 2016.  (Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan/ Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ISE, JAPAN – MAY 27: Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (L-3), European Council President Donald Tusk (R-2), British Prime Minister David Cameron (R-4), U.S. President Barack Obama (L-5), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L-10), European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R-9), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R-6), UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (L-2) and French President Francois Hollande (L-8) attend a meeting during the G7 leaders summit at the Shima Kanko Hotel in Ise, Japan on May 26, 2016.
(Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan/ Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations meet on Monday for an annual gathering, with Europe and Japan seeking clarity from the United States on an array of issues, especially Syria.

The two-day summit in Tuscany comes as the United States moves a Navy strike group near the Korean peninsular amid concerns over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and as the West’s relations with Russia struggle to overcome years of mistrust.

But the civil war in Syria is likely to dominate talks, with Italy hoping for a final communique that will reinforce United Nations’ efforts to end six years of conflict.

The meeting will give Italy, Germany, France, Britain, Canada and Japan their first chance to grill the new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on whether Washington is now committed to overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

President Donald Trump had hinted he would be less interventionist than his predecessors and more willing to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses if it was in U.S. interests.

Given this, the U.S. attack on Syria last week in retaliation for what it said was a chemical weapons attack by Assad’s forces on Syrian civilians confounded many diplomats.

However, there is uncertainty over whether Washington now wants Assad out, as many Europeans are pushing for, or whether the missile strikes were simply a warning shot.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said at the weekend that regime change in Syria was a priority for Trump, while Tillerson said on Saturday the first priority was the defeat of ISIS.

The mixed messages have confused and frustrated European allies, who are eager for full U.S. support for a political solution based on a transfer of power in Damascus.

The struggle against terrorism, relations with Iran and on-going instability in Ukraine will also come up for discussion, with talks due to kick off at 4.30 p.m. (1430 GMT).

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