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Changing Middle East Pushes G7 to Discuss Waning Influence, Say Diplomats

FILE - G-7 foreign ministers are pictured during a working session at a G-7 Foreign Ministers Meeting at the City Hall in Muenster, Germany, Nov. 4, 2022. The ministers of France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, the U.S. and Japan meet in Japan April 16-18.

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations will use talks in Japan next week to assess their strategy in the Middle East, diplomatic sources said Thursday, as strategic shifts bypass Western powers, leaving them scrambling for influence.

The U.S. and its main European allies were caught unprepared in March after China brokered a deal between regional foes Saudi Arabia and Iran to revive diplomatic relations after years of bitter rivalry that has fueled conflict across the Middle East.

The kingdom is also pressing ahead with efforts to thaw bilateral ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, joining several other Arab states in moving to formally end Syria's regional isolation despite Western concerns.

"A reconfiguration is under way," said a French diplomatic source who was officially briefing reporters but required anonymity as per standard policy.

Foreign ministers to meet soon

The ministers of the G-7 — France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, the U.S. and Japan — meet in Japan April 16-18.

"The region is going through serious upheaval, be it the Iranian nuclear crisis aspect, but also the recomposition of the geopolitical balances with the Iran-Saudi-China deal. We can see something is happening with Syria after the earthquake," he said.

Certain Middle East allies, notably Saudi Arabia, have questioned U.S. security commitments to the region and have opted to remain neutral about Russia's war against Ukraine, pushing them to diversify their relationships, including with China, instead of relying on the West.

"The G-7 must be able to preserve its security interests, which incidentally are also in the interest of regional security, but also global security," the diplomat said.

'Middle East fatigue'

Some European diplomats have bemoaned a "Middle East fatigue" in the West that has also forced regional players to reconsider their relationships, leaving the door open for others to fill the void.

"The Iran-Saudi-China deal is symptomatic of our problems. Nobody saw it coming, so we need to regroup collectively," said a second G-7 diplomat.

A third Western diplomat said it was time for the G-7 to take stock of the new dynamics in the region, noting that Saudi Arabian-led efforts to orchestrate OPEC oil cuts, against Western wishes, had been another signal.

The foreign ministers, who are preparing a heads-of-state summit in Hiroshima in mid-May, will center their talks on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament with North Korea, Iran and Russia in mind.

The war in Ukraine and how to prevent Russia from circumventing sanctions, the Indo-Pacific and more broadly how to tackle challenges to the existing international rules-based order also would be on the agenda, the French diplomat said.

"The G-7 will only remain credible if it is able to handle the world’s problems," he said.