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UK: G-7 to Set Up Group to Study Russian 'Malign Behavior'

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives for a reception at the Royal Ontario Museum on the first day of meetings of foreign ministers from G-7 countries in Toronto, Canada, April 22, 2018.

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations will create a working group to study Russia's "malign behavior" given concerns about Moscow's actions, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Monday.

Tensions between Moscow and the West have increased steadily over recent years as Russia has become involved in conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, and Russia is also blamed for a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain last month.

Johnson said the G-7 ministers, wrapping up a two-day meeting in Toronto, had agreed on the need to be vigilant about Russia, which denies interfering in the U.S. election, or involvement in the attack in Britain.

"What we decided yesterday was that we were going to set up a G-7 group that would look at Russian malign behavior in all its manifestations - whether it's cyber warfare, whether it's disinformation, assassination attempts, whatever it happens to be and collectively try to call it out," he told reporters.

The challenge for the G-7 is that it also needs Moscow's help to solve the crisis in Syria, where Russia and Iran are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters that the final communique "establishes again that there will be no political solution in Syria without Russia ... and that Russia has to contribute its share to such a solution."

The G-7 meeting is the first high-level gathering of the allies since the United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack on April 7.

The Western countries blame Assad for the attack that killed dozens of people. The Syrian government and its Russian ally deny involvement or using poison gas on April 7.

"We spent a considerable amount of time talking about Russia ... we all share deep concerns about what we agree is unacceptable behavior including the despicable nerve agent attack in the U.K.," Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told a closing news conference.

"The countries of the G-7 are united in our resolve to work together to respond to this continued flaunting of international laws," she said, adding that the working group would help democracies from being undermined.

Maas also said the leaders of France and Germany would urge U.S. President Donald Trump not to pull out of an Iran nuclear deal with major powers.

Trump has given the European signatories of the deal a May 12 deadline to "fix the terrible flaws" of the 2015 nuclear agreement, or he will refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

The agreement offered Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.

"We accept that Iranian behavior has been disruptive in the region, we accept the president has some valid points that need to be addressed but we believe they are capable of being addressed [inside the deal]," said Johnson.