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CIS: Leaders Agree To Step Up Efforts At Economic Integration

Leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) met in St. Petersburg today to discuss economic integration, peacekeeping, and the war in Iraq. There were few resolutions and it seems that the CIS has yet to prove its mettle as an organization.

St. Petersburg, 30 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) met for an informal summit in St. Petersburg today and agreed to accelerate efforts at economic integration.

The CIS heads of state, who are in town to celebrate St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary, met for two hours of talks on board a luxury cruise ship, dubbed the "Silver Whisper," anchored in the Neva River.

And true to its name, the ship did not reveal many secrets. It was up to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, in his capacity as CIS chairman, to give journalists an account of what was discussed. His fellow presidents left it to Kuchma to face the press alone at the summit's closing press conference.

The Ukrainian leader put the accent on the need to make concrete progress toward the establishment of an overall CIS free-trade zone, a goal -- he noted -- that was outlined back in 1994 but has yet to be realized. Kuchma said that instead, the creation of more than 60 separate bilateral and multilateral trade agreements -- as currently exist across the commonwealth -- had been ineffective and often counter-productive.

Kuchma said the next CIS summit, due to take place in Yalta this September, should be a milestone in getting the economic integration of the member states back on track.

"The leaders of the commonwealth countries practically unanimously declared that the Yalta meeting should be, in a certain sense, a summing-up meeting -- a meeting that will allow us to tally up the results of our common efforts. And today, we signed a resolution declaring that in Yalta, we must adopt a final decision on creating the first stage of a free-trade zone," Kuchma said.

During their talks today, CIS leaders also agreed to send observers to monitor upcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan as well as parliamentary polls in Georgia. Kuchma said they also had adopted a joint stance on Iraq.

"We exchanged opinions about the general situation in the world and, above all, the events around Iraq. We approved of the abolition of sanctions against this country and also reached unanimous agreement on the essential nature of strengthening the role of the United Nations and other international organizations in the process of Iraq's postwar reconstruction," Kuchma said.

That, in a nutshell, sums up today's CIS summit in St. Petersburg. Skeptics who argue that the organization is little more than a glorified talking shop appear, for now, to have been proven right. Despite Kuchma's optimistic words about the upcoming Yalta meeting, his lone appearance at the final press conference seems likely to reinforce the impression that the time when the CIS proves its mettle lies somewhere beyond the murky horizon.