G20 negotiators were unable to resolve disagreements over the wording of the summit declaration on the war in Ukraine on Friday, according to a draft seen by Reuters, leaving any possible breakthrough to bloc leaders during the two-day meeting.
The 38-page draft that was circulated among members left the "geopolitical situation" paragraph blank, while it had agreed on the 75 other paragraphs which included climate change, cryptocurrencies and reforms in multilateral development banks.
G20 sherpas have been struggling for days to agree on the language because of differences over the war, hoping to get Russia on board to produce a communique.
India's G20 sherpa, or negotiator, Amitabh Kant, said earlier in the day the "New Delhi Leaders' Declaration is almost ready, I would not like to dwell on it... This declaration will be recommended to the leaders."
One source told Reuters a joint declaration may or may not come to a unanimous agreement. It could have different paragraphs stating the views of different countries. Or it could record agreement and dissent in one paragraph.
"We may paper over the differences and make a general statement saying we should have peace and harmony across the world so that everybody agrees," a second source said.
According to another senior source in one of the G20 countries, the paragraphs on the war on Ukraine had been agreed by Western countries and was sent to Russia for its views.
The official said Russia had the option to accept the Western countries' views and give its dissent as a part of the statement. In the absence of an agreement, India will have to issue a chair statement, which would mean that G20 for the first time in 20 years of summits will not have a declaration.
An EU diplomat said India was doing an "excellent" job as host in looking for compromises.
"But so far Russia is blocking a compromise that is acceptable otherwise for everyone else."
The document showed that the group agreed to address debt vulnerabilities in low and middle-income countries "in an effective, comprehensive and systematic manner", but did not make any fresh action plan.
The draft also shows countries pledged to strengthen and reform multilateral development banks, while it accepted the proposal for tighter regulations of cryptocurrencies.
It also agreed that the world needs a total of US$4 trillion low-cost financing annually for energy transition.
On Friday, the streets of the usually bustling capital New Delhi were deserted with businesses, offices and schools closed as part of security measures to ensure the smooth running of the most high-powered meeting to be hosted by the country.
Slums have been demolished and monkeys and stray dogs have been removed from the streets.
Xi, Putin missing
The two-day summit that starts on Saturday in New Delhi is expected to be dominated by the West and its allies. Chinese President Xi Jinping is skipping the meeting and sending Premier Li Qiang instead, while Russia's Vladimir Putin will also be absent.
US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Bin Salman and Japan's Fumio Kishida, among others, will attend.
The hardened stance on the war has prevented agreement on even a single communique at the ministerial meetings during India's G20 presidency so far this year, leaving it to the leaders to find a way around, if possible.
China said on Friday it is willing to work with all parties and push for a positive outcome at the summit.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning made the remarks after a media report said Sunak blamed China for delaying an agreement on various issues, including Ukraine.
In New Delhi, Sunak said that it was not his place to tell India what stand it should take on the war in Ukraine.
"It's not for me to tell India what positions to take on international issues, but I know India rightly cares about the international rule of law, the UN Charter and respect for territorial integrity," Sunak told Indian news agency Ani.
India has avoided blaming Moscow for the war and has called for a solution through dialogue and diplomacy. The Financial Times reported on Thursday that Sunak would urge his Indian counterpart to "call out" Russia on its February 2022 invasion.
Modi's government is projecting India's presidency of the group and the summit as a showcase for the country's fast-growing economy and its rising position in the geo-political pecking order.
New Delhi has been decked up for the gathering with a brand new summit venue, fountains, flowerpots and illumination along major thoroughfares, alongside thousands of armed security personnel standing guard.
More than 100 Tibetan refugees staged a protest away from the city centre on Friday, demanding that the "occupation" of their country by China be discussed during the summit.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen earlier said Washington was willing to work with India to help craft a communique at the end of the summit but it would be a challenge.
The draft did not talk about a fossil fuel phase-down.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said G20 leaders have the power to reset a climate crisis that is "spinning out of control" and urged them to reshape global financial rules which he described as outdated and unfair.
"The climate crisis is worsening dramatically – but the collective response is lacking in ambition, credibility, and urgency," Guterres said in a speech.