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G7 leaders pledge action to counter foreign interference in new statement

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, meets with Pope Francis during the G7 Summit in Savelletri Di Fasano, Italy on Friday, June 14, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

SAVELLETRI DI FASANO — Leaders of the G7 countries say they are more concerned than ever about foreign interference and plan to create a "collective response framework" to counter foreign threats to democracies.

That pledge is part of a 43-page communique released Friday by the leaders of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany and Japan.

It said government ministers have been asked to get the framework together by the end of the year, and that it will include publicly exposing "foreign operations of information manipulation."

The communique also called on tech companies to step up their efforts to prevent and counter foreign interference and information manipulation, particularly through the abuse of artificial intelligence.

The focus on foreign interference and its threats to democracy comes at a time when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has been embroiled in controversy over allegations that foreign states including China and India have tried meddling in the last two federal elections.

And the concern over AI comes after a warning about that technology from Pope Francis, who on Friday became the first pope to address G7 leaders.

The pontiff counselled the leaders to centre humanity in the development of AI and ensure that decisions about when to use weapons or even less-lethal tools are always made by humans and not machines.

"We would condemn humanity to a future without hope if we took away people's ability to make decisions about themselves and their lives, by dooming them to depend on the choices of machines," Francis said.

"We need to ensure and safeguard a space for proper human control over the choices made by artificial intelligence programs: Human dignity itself depends on it."

Trudeau met with the pope before his address Friday afternoon. According to Trudeau's office, the pair talked about advancing reconciliation and the need for the return of Indigenous artifacts held in the Vatican Museum.

Leaders of outreach countries, who arrived at the summit on Friday, also attended the pope's address. Among them were Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Argentine President Javier Milei and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

After Modi shared a photo of himself shaking hands with Trudeau on social media, the Prime Minister's Office said the pair had a "brief discussion on the bilateral relationship."

Trudeau also congratulated Modi on his re-election, said spokeswoman Ann-Clara Vaillancourt.

"Of course there are important issues between our two countries right now. You can appreciate that we won't be making any further statements at this time," Vaillancourt said.

It was the first time the two met in person since Trudeau accused Modi's government of being involved in the killing of a Sikh activist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in British Columbia.

Trudeau made the shocking revelation in the House of Commons last September. Four Indian nationals have since been arrested and charged with Nijjar's murder.

The first day of the G7 summit in Apulia, Italy, had been dominated by news that the leaders will deliver a US$50-billion loan to Ukraine using interest earned on profits from Russia's frozen central bank assets as collateral.

Canada promised Thursday to pitch in up to $5 billion toward the loan.

"We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes," said the communique released Friday. "Together with international partners, we are determined to continue to provide military, budget, humanitarian and reconstruction support to Ukraine and its people."

The conflict in the Middle East also featured prominently in the leaders' final statement, though there was no significant promise of new action from the G7.

The communique endorsed the ceasefire deal outlined by U.S. President Joe Biden and called on Hamas to fully accept the proposal, while also calling for more humanitarian aid to get to civilians.

The leaders also said they seek "constructive and stable" relations with China, while calling on Beijing "to refrain from adopting export control measures, particularly on critical minerals, that could lead to significant global supply chain disruptions."

On that front, the communique insisted G7 nations "are not decoupling or turning inward. We are derisking and diversifying supply chains where necessary and appropriate, and fostering resilience to economic coercion."

Canada has agreed to spend just shy of $687 million on initiatives to strengthen climate resiliency and advance gender equality. About half of that, $360 million, is a repayable contribution to the Asian Development Bank for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects.

Italian negotiators successfully removed the word "abortion" from an earlier draft of the communique, the ANSA news agency reported on Thursday.

The final version did, however, include a commitment to quality health care for women, including "comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights," and a pledge to "unlock" at least US$20 billion over three years to boost women's empowerment.

Canada's contribution to those initiatives is $120 million.

Another $200 million is going toward the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Migration was another priority for summit host Italy and its right-wing government, which wanted to increase investment and funding for African nations as a means of reducing migratory pressure on Europe.

A G7 coalition has been launched to prevent and counter the smuggling of migrants.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press.

Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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