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World: Foreign Ministers Meet Ahead Of G7 Summit

Rome, 19 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrial countries and Russia have completed two days of talks in Rome that are expected to set the groundwork for the G-7 summit that starts tomorrow in Genoa, Italy. In an apparent reference to a dispute over Washington's plans to build a missile defense system, the ministers said in a joint statement today that they are determined to promote "fundamental" arms control treaties. Many of Washington's allies have expressed concern over U.S. plans to build a missile defense shield, fearing it will undermine arms treaties -- including the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- and spark a new arms race. Russia opposes the American plan for the same reasons. U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has called the ABM Treaty an obsolete relic of the Cold War.

When asked about today's G-7 communique, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said it contained "no direct reference" to the ABM treaty.

"And obviously, within every treaty in the arms control family, there is a provision within those treaties for modification and change as circumstances change."

The foreign ministers today also called on the UN to come up with a new approach towards Iraq and urged Israel to accept international observers to monitor the implementation of the Mitchell Report.

The ministers' declaration calls on both Palestinians and Israelis to immediately implement the Mitchell Report -- a peace plan drafted by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer underlined the importance of today's talks.

"The declaration makes clear how unified the foreign ministers who are gathered here are in their evaluation of the situation -- that is to say that we consider the situation very critical, that the implementation of the Mitchell Report is the only way out of the crisis." In Israel, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated Sharon's objections to international observers.