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World: G-7 Summit Opens With Debt, Russia, And Kosovo On Agenda

Cologne, 18 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - The leaders of the seven leading industrial democracies (the G-7) opened their annual economic summit today in the western German city of Cologne.

Host Germany has promised an agenda filled with ideas for reforming the global economy, including a plan to forgive thousands of millions of dollars in third-world debt and another initiative to make global financial transactions more stable and transparent.

Our correspondent reports from Cologne that the mood of participants is upbeat, given the continued strong growth of the U.S economy and the first signs that Japan and Germany, the world's second and third biggest economies respectively, are pulling out of recession.

U.S. President Bill Clinton today underscored the important economic relationship between the three countries in bilateral talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

After meeting with Obuchi, Clinton said he welcomed recent signs of Japanese economic growth and said he hoped it would continue.

The summit formally opened this afternoon, and participants immediately began talks on the debt relief plan and the global economy.

The debt plan would offer to forgive about $70 billion in debt owed to governments and multinational lenders by about 40 of the world's poorest countries.

Japan is taking a leading role in the discussion. With nearly $9 billion in outstanding loans to developing countries, Japanese leaders are determined that their country not bear the main burden of the write-off.

Leaders were also expected to endorse a package of reforms put together by their finance ministers that aim to prevent or at least better handle future currency crises, such as the very damaging currency devaluations Asian countries were forced to carry out last year.

The proposals include requiring developing countries to publish more accurate information on their financial status, to increase regulation of banks and to pursue ways to ensure that wealthy investors do not reap the benefits from multi-million dollar rescue packages intended to help countries in trouble.

Later in the day, summit participants were to meet with Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin concerning Western support for Russia's economic reforms and Russia's relations with international lenders, including the International Monetary Fund. Stepashin arrived in Cologne late this afternoon.

G-7 leaders and Stepashin were also expected to discuss the ongoing standoff in Kosovo between Russian soldiers occupying Pristina airport and NATO forces taking part in the Kosovo peacekeeping force (KFOR).

Russia's status in the G-7 is still unclear. For talks considered vital to Russian interests, the group renames itself the G-8 (G-7 plus Russia). Tonight's meeting with Stepashin is being called a "G-8" event.

Stepashin is expected to depart the summit tomorrow for talks in Moscow with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin is then due at the summit on Sunday for bilateral meetings with Western leaders, including Bill Clinton. Those talks are intended to resolve any final problems in Russia's participation in KFOR.

Other issues for discussion during the three-day summit include plans for creating a Balkan stabilization fund for rebuilding countries surrounding Serbia that suffered during NATO's recent bombing campaign.

Correspondents say there is disagreement among summit participants on who will pay the costs of reconstruction and what the money will be used for, though they say Western leaders agree that Serbia cannot take part in any fund while Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power.

Leaders may also discuss a G-7 plan to provide loans to Ukraine to pay for new nuclear reactors that will allow the country to shut down dangerous reactors at Chornobyl. The plan has come under fire from ecology minded deputies of Schroeder's ruling coalition government who say the West should not promote nuclear energy in any form.
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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.