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G7 foreign ministers speak as Biden hangs back

by editor

LONDON — G7 foreign ministers agreed on the need for a joint approach to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan even as the U.S. appeared reluctant to engage with allies in the wake of its withdrawal from the country. 

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab chaired a video call with his counterparts from the grouping of the world’s wealthiest nations on Thursday, at which they resolved to cooperate in an effort to provide aid and prevent further loss of life. 

No specific measures were announced and no update was given on plans for a call between G7 leaders next week. 

A U.K. government official claimed the U.S. had to be “bounced” into agreeing to the call after largely ignoring allies’ attempts to discuss Afghanistan over the last few weeks led by France and the U.K., which currently holds the G7 presidency. 

One senior Conservative questioned why it was taking so long for the leaders’ call, saying: “Why next week? It’s not like this isn’t an emergency, and frankly, it should have happened already.”

The Tory former minister said the length of time between the fall of Kabul and the phone call between Boris Johnson and Joe Biden on Tuesday was a sign of strained U.K.-U.S. relations, adding that it would have been “inconceivable” under previous administrations, including that of Donald Trump. 

A British diplomat argued the silence from Washington said less about Joe Biden’s indifference to the U.K. and more about “Biden trying to minimize the whole thing for the U.S. public, and consequently avoid lots of calls to foreign leaders.”

Apart from Johnson, the only other foreign leader Biden has spoken to since Sunday is Germany’s Angela Merkel. 

In the same period, Johnson has spoken to Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Italy’s Mario Draghi, Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Australia’s Scott Morrison, NATO Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg and the U.N.’s Antonio Guterres.

In recent days the prime minister has stressed the need for a common position on whether to recognize the Taliban’s regime. His most open difference in posture from Biden has been his remarks on the Afghan military, paying tribute to their “bravery and sacrifice” in a House of Commons statement on Wednesday.

Raab chaired Thursday’s virtual meeting of G7 foreign ministers as he came under significant pressure for reportedly failing to call his Afghan counterpart on Saturday while on holiday despite pleas to do so from officials in his department. 

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The foreign secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister,” in response to the story in the Daily Mail.

The Labour Party called on Raab to quit, but Tory insiders said this is unlikely. 

A Cabinet minister commented: “He’s safe … the prime minister really rates him,” while several MPs said Raab’s holiday had not generated anything close to the same level of anger as former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s affair.

Alex Wickham and Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.

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