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World: G-7 Foreign Ministers United On Middle East

Genoa, 20 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The deteriorating situation in the Middle East dominated discussion yesterday (19 July) among foreign ministers from the seven leading industrialized democracies and Russia meeting near the Italian capital, Rome.

The ministers were gathering for two days of talks ahead of the G-7 plus Russia summit that begins today in the northern Italian city of Genoa.

The eight ministers issued a statement at the end of talks supporting a plan by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell calling for, among other things, an immediate cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians and a cooling off period before peace talks can be renewed.

The ministers went a step further and called for monitors to be deployed in the region to ensure both sides adhere to a cease-fire. Israel is opposed to any plan that would deploy monitors.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters the ministers were unified in support of the Mitchell plan:

"The [joint] 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."

The ministers' meeting, held in a villa on the outskirts of Rome, was meant to smooth out major foreign policy differences ahead of three days of talks among G-7 and Russian heads of state in Genoa.

Aside from the Middle East, the ministers discussed the situation in Macedonia as well as differences between the U.S. and some G-7 members and Russia over plans to develop a missile defense system.

The ministers also discussed the status of the Kyoto Protocol to limit production of greenhouse gases believed to contribute to climate change.

Concerning Macedonia, host Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero told reporters the ministers reaffirmed support for talks between ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political parties. He said they also agreed on the need to preserve Macedonian territorial integrity, but no joint statement on Macedonia followed the meeting.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell defended his country's plan to develop a missile defense system and withdraw from a 1972 treaty with Russia, the ABM Treaty, which bans deployment of antimissile systems.

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

The U.S. has proposed deploying a system that would shield the country against missiles fired by rogue nations such as Iran or North Korea. Russia has opposed the plan on grounds it would scuttle the ABM accord, which it considers a cornerstone of arms control.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he considers the ABM accord to be a holdover from the Cold War.

In a statement, the ministers said they supported "fundamental" arms control agreements, but according to Powell the statement did not make any direct reference to the ABM Treaty.

The missile defense system is certain to come up in bilateral discussions in Genoa this weekend between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bush today expressed optimism the two would see eye-to-eye. Speaking yesterday in Britain before traveling to Italy, Bush said:

"I look forward to having a good discussion with President Putin on missile defenses. I was pleased to see his comments. Remember, I want you all to remember, that he was the first world leader to indicate that perhaps we needed to think differently about the new threats of the 21st century. He clearly talked about theater defenses as well as the capacity to develop technologies to intercept missiles on launch."

Powell also defended the U.S.'s decision to reject the Kyoto Protocol. He said the U.S. was committed to fighting global warming, but said Washington did not think Kyoto was the right way to do this.

"[Global warming] is a terribly complex issue and we are putting our best minds to work on it. We want to come out with something that will garner support and will be seen as a very clear response to this problem, which exists and which we all know exists -- called 'global warming.'"

Bush earlier this year withdrew the U.S. from the Kyoto process on grounds that the treaty, as written, would damage the U.S. economy.

The withdrawal drew angry responses from European governments. The U.S. is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

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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.