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World: Mideast, Security Issues Expected To Dominate G-8 Summit

  • Robert McMahon

The first annual Group of Eight summit since the 11 September attacks was originally expected to feature concerted action to advance the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign, as well as to spur global development. But while those issues will be discussed, it is the newly announced U.S. Mideast policy that is expected to dominate the opening of the two-day summit in western Canada.

Prague, 26 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- More so than in previous years, political and security issues are expected to dominate this year's annual summit of the world's leading industrial countries, which begins later today in the western Canadian resort of Kananaskis.

The status of the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign was already on the agenda. But U.S. President George W. Bush's new policy on the Middle East, announced Monday, is expected to generate major discussion, although not much action.

Bush said Washington will support the establishment of a provisional Palestinian state but only if its leadership is replaced. Reaction in Europe has been muted, but there was little support for the ouster of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana made a fresh call for a conference on the Middle East, an idea that Bush declined to mention.

Those attending summit meetings during the next two days include all the members of the quartet guiding the Middle East peace process, among them United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Solana, and the U.S. and Russian presidents. That's in addition to the leaders of Italy, France, Germany, Japan, Britain, and Canada.

Earlier today, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat outlined plans for Palestinian elections in January and an overhaul of Palestinian institutions. But he said it would be difficult to carry out elections and reforms if Israeli troops continued to occupy West Bank cities. Erekat appealed to G-8 leaders to take action to advance the faltering Mideast peace process.

"I would also like to stress here and call upon the leaders of the G-8, who are meeting in Canada today, to try to convince President Bush that what Palestinians and Israelis need is action and not vision. Vision constitutes no policy. Vision constitutes no road map," Erekat said.

But most of the initial action in Kananaskis is expected to be linked to the antiterrorism campaign. The Group of Eight is to issue an "action plan" on transport security, including measures to ensure cargo on ships and planes is secure. There will also be discussion of a Bush administration proposal to pay for the disposal of nuclear materials in Russia.

The summit will also provide the first opportunity for trans-Atlantic leaders to discuss Bush's new policy of preemptive strikes against foes considered a terrorist threat to the United States. This policy departs from U.S. policies based on deterring and containing such threats.

Bush is likely to hear major concern from G-8 representatives about employing the policy against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, said Julian Lindley-French, a senior research fellow at the European Union's Institute for Security Studies. Lindley-French told RFE/RL a number of European leaders will be seeking a clarification of what this policy means in practice. "Obviously, the NATO members will want to see what the implications are for the alliance. I think there will be, by and large, a strong European objection to a concept of preemption without consultation," Lindley-French said.

For a meeting of countries that represent nearly half of the global economy and half of global trade, the Kananaskis summit will, of course, also devote attention to economic and trade issues. But most of the major talking on sustaining global economic development was already done at a meeting of G-7 finance ministers -- Russia does not participate in discussions at this level -- in Halifax, Canada, earlier this month.

The finance ministers released a statement on 15 June that reaffirmed the call made in Monterrey, Mexico, earlier this year for a global development compact between developed and developing countries. They stressed the need for developing countries to establish sound economic policies to make development aid effective and said developed countries have a responsibility to provide technical assistance in this area, as well as debt relief.

The G-8 presidents during the next two days are expected to reiterate support for an action plan to combat the financing of terrorism. They will promote greater transparency in international financial systems and work to stop the abuse of charities and hawalas, the informal money-transfer system used mainly by Islamic countries.

Lindley-French, of the EU Institute for Security Studies, said this year's summit is expected to underline the shift of G-8 meetings from primarily economic in nature to a package that includes economic, political, and military issues. Due to the presence of Japan and Germany, he said, the group is emerging more and more as a "de-facto security council."

"It's like a directoire [a small, powerful group] for the world, if you like. What you tend to see are the major issues that are political rather than economic coming to the fore," Lindley-French said.

The security measures taken by Canada for this year's meeting seem to bear out this point. Canadian leaders originally chose the remote ski resort of Kananaskis to help keep away antiglobalization protesters who had disrupted previous high-level international gatherings.

Terrorism concerns have only heightened the security, which includes the deployment of 4,500 police officers and 6,000 soldiers to protect the leaders. The cost of security for the two-day meeting has been estimated at more than $200 million.

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