Dubai: Saudi Arabia has informally asked Italy to delay the Group of 20 leaders’ summit until December, according to two senior officials with knowledge of the discussions with Riyadh.
The meeting is currently scheduled to take place in the Saudi capital on Nov. 21 and 22, before the G-20 mantle passes to Italy on Dec. 1. The request would mean delaying the start of Italy’s presidency, the officials said, asking not to be identified discussing private conversations.
One of the officials said that the Italian government is flexible and could agree to have the summit in December but not further into its presidency. Discussions between the Italian and Saudi governments are ongoing and a final decision has yet to be taken, said one of the officials. A diplomat from one other G-20 country also said that they had heard about the request.
A spokesman for the Saudis’ G-20 secretariat said by email that Italy will be taking over the presidency as planned at the start of December and the summit will take place in November in line with the original schedule.
Saudi officials have been trying to salvage the set piece event which would allow its rulers to host the world’s most important political leaders and offers a chance to rehabilitate the kingdom’s reputation after the murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi two years ago. But the annual schedule of multilateral meetings has been wrecked by the coronavirus pandemic - President Donald Trump has also delayed his plans to host a meeting of G-7 leaders this year and in August said he aims to bring the group together after the U.S. election on Nov. 3.
Two officials said that Saudi Arabian officials had cited internal organizational problems with getting people to the country for the summit due to the Covid-19 crisis as the reason for the request to postpone the meeting. All the same, both said that an extra month may not be enough to clear up public health concerns and were skeptical about the possibilities of an in-person meeting.
One of the diplomats tracking the discussions over the timing of the summit said that the lead up to the meeting in Riyadh has faced additional problems beyond the pandemic.
At a virtual meeting of environment ministers last Wednesday, the 20 governments failed to reach agreement on a common text due to what the diplomat described as the Trump administration’s intransigence on anything to do with climate change. The diplomat said that because of this other members may become less keen on committing to strong climate action.
The next meeting between envoys preparing the summit is scheduled for Sept. 29 and 30 and will take place virtually.