Washington, 18 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia has been invited into this week's Summit of the Eight as a nearly full participant, but officials of the old G-7 major industrial nations are finding themselves questioned by reporters whether this is only a one-time political sop to Moscow.
The question seemed so strange to Daniel Tarullo, U.S. President Bill Clinton's official organizing the summit in Denver, Colorado, that he was at a loss at first to even answer. "I haven't heard anything to indicate the eight won't continue from now on," he finally replied.
The G-7 group of industrial democracies has been holding annual summits since the 1970s, a club of the largest and most wealthy democracies on earth.
The Soviet Union was never even considered for membership, mostly because Moscow disdained involvement in any international organizations it saw as western, from the G-7 to the International Monetary Fund. It wasn't invited also because its communist political and economic systems didn't match with the various forms of democratic political and market-based economic systems in the U.S., Japan, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy and Canada.
Times have changed, of course, and since the last days of the USSR, Moscow's leader has been invited to join the seven each year -- first in a brief hour or so devoted just to Russia, then gradually expanding to the complete summit session on global political problems.
This year, for the first time, Russia is to be a virtually full participant in the annual summit. Only one short talk on certain economic issues will be restricted to the seven. But instead of calling it the G-8, the U.S. and its western partners have decided to change the lexicon and call it the Summit of the Eight.
U.S. officials explain privately that since Russia is not yet as full a democracy and as far along the road to a market economy as the other seven, the desire was to find a name that included Russia but did not give it the complete status of G-8.
That change in language has prompted reporters in several western capitals, including Washington and Ottawa, to wonder out loud if the name implies something much more temporary than the G-7.
"Is this a geo-political joke?" asked one White House correspondent at a briefing in advance of the summit. "Russia's economy is but a fraction of the size of the other seven, so will the summits revert back in future years?"
White House National Security Advisor Sandy Berger dismisses the question, saying Russia is in to stay and that its participation is very important.
Senior Canadian officials have been hit with the same question. "Is this eight a one-time event," asked one reporter, "or is it a watering down of the G-7?"
It's no watering down, responded one senior Canadian official who was participating in a discussion in Washington on the summit in an electronic hookup from Ottawa. He said it was not a one-time event. "There's no doubt in my mind it will continue as such," he said.
The leaders of the G-7 nations are unanimous in believing that Russia belongs in the forum because, says the official, "the positive steps toward a full functioning democracy and the positive economic reforms are something we've all welcomed."
Obviously, he added, Russia has a number of serious problems of transition, and President Boris Yeltsin will certainly discuss them with the others in Denver. But the seven are changing their summit organization to reflect the changes in Russia "and we are very comfortable" with that, said the Canadian official.
Bruce Stokes, a senior fellow at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, a private organization, suggests that Russia's admission should only be a first step and that China should be next.
But the Senior Canadian official rejected the idea out of hand, saying China is not an industrialized democracy nor moving in that direction. Anyway, he said, Beijing hasn't been asked.