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World: The Birmingham Summit Centered On Nuclear And Economic Issues

Birmingham, 18 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Birmingham summit of the G7 nations plus Russia ended yesterday with a 10-page communiqu that focused on the Indian nuclear weapons tests, proliferation of nuclear weapons, international crime, and the impact of the Asian financial crisis.

Heads of state and government of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US have spent three days in an annual round of talks on the most pressing issues facing the global community.

The summit was dominated by India's decision to set off five nuclear weapons tests, raising fears Pakistan will embark on its own tests, and set off a nuclear arms race in one of the world's most volatile regions. The summit condemned the Indian tests, urged Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint, and urged both to sign up to the non-proliferation treaty. The communiqu said: "Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems threatens the security of every nation."

The world leaders also issued statements on the Balkans, the Middle East process, and Ukraine. They dealt with the Millennium Bug computer problem, the Northern Ireland peace process, the problem of Third World debts, climate change, and ways to cut unemployment.

The leaders spent much of yesterday at a retreat outside Birmingham in an elegant 300-year-old country mansion. They agreed to adopt this more informal approach and slimmed-down agenda at future summits.

At the close of the summit President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin had 45 minutes of talks about the Balkans, the need to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, prospects of further cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, and prospects for a U.S.-Russian summit.

The final communiqu from the summit said that global economic prospects remain good but have been temporarily set back by the financial crisis in Asia which has hit Indonesia particularly hard, bringing an upsurge of rioting and loss of life in recent days.

The summit leaders agreed to step up cooperation in dealing with international crime which has become an increasing problem with the trend towards the globalization of trade and business.

They agreed on measures to fight high-tech crime, drugs smuggling, money laundering, firearms trafficking, and the problem of corruption. They agreed that crime and corruption pose a particularly serious threat to the East and Central European countries and former Soviet republics, because it could undermine their political and economic transitions.

The leaders agreed on new measures aimed at alleviating the debt burden of Third World countries, including a new initiative aimed at responding to the "exceptional needs of post-conflict countries."

But the measures were strongly criticized as inadequate by leaders of some 50,000 Birmingham demonstrators who demanded that the rich nations write off the Third World's entire debt to mark the millennium.

The need to cut unemployment -- running as high as 12 percent in some areas of the EU -- was discussed yesterday. The leaders put particular emphasis on tackling social exclusion, helping the young and long-term unemployed, and helping small businesses and entrepreneurs. There was lengthy discussion today of the so-called Millennium Bomb problem, caused by the inability of computer software to cope with the date change at the end of the century.

Eastern and central Europe and the former Soviet Union were said to be particularly vulnerable because they lack the resources and manpower to take remedial action. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the host of the summit, said today that Yeltsin made "a particularly strong plea as to the importance of action on the millennium bug in his country."

The eight leaders had talks today about how to step up cooperation in general. A U.S. official said "Yeltsin was very pleased that they talked about how to deepen Russia's integration in future."

Clinton pressed at the summit for tougher measures to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly what one U.S. official called the illicit and illegal transfer of missile technology to countries, including Iran, which might misuse that technology.

The final communiqu said the eight countries would "deny any kind of assistance to programs for weapons of mass destruction" and also tighten export controls to prevent the spread of weapons technology.

The heads of state and government also agreed on what Blair called "the prospect of Russia's membership of a nuclear safety group."

Blair said today that the G7 countries, meeting at the start of the summit without Russia, agreed it was important to support the financial and economic reforms of Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, and, in particular, to make the Chernobyl nuclear plant "safe and secure".

The G7 nations reaffirmed a commitment to the full implementation of a memorandum of understanding with Ukraine about the Chernobyl plant. They said funding from G7 and other international donors for safety improvements to the concrete sarcophagus at the ruined No.4 reactor depends on the closure of Chernobyl as agreed by the year 2000.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl told a news briefing today that while everyone's eyes were focused on Russia, they tended to forget Ukraine which was crucial to the future security of Europe.

At a final press conference, Blair praised Russia's contribution to the summit, in particular for its "strong voice and leadership" in relation to the Indian nuclear tests. He said: "We appreciate very well that without the voice of Russia being heard in G8 councils, it is far more difficult for us to deal with the serious international issues that confront us."

The heads of state and government agreed to meet in Cologne, Germany for their 1999 summit.