Mideast violence, Iran, overshadow G8 summit
17 July 2006, ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - Leaders of the G8 industrial nations are set to open a summit Saturday overshadowed by Israeli military operations against Lebanon and the Palestinians, Iran's nuclear programme and North Korea's recent missile tests.
17 July 2006
ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - Leaders of the G8 industrial nations are set to open a summit Saturday overshadowed by Israeli military operations against Lebanon and the Palestinians, Iran's nuclear programme and North Korea's recent missile tests.
The multiple global flashpoints - arguably the worst in decades - will challenge the unity of the G8, whose members have staked out widely divergent views on how to respond.
G8 leaders are scheduled to meet amid intense security at the 18th century Konstantin Palace built by Peter the Great as a symbol of Russia's imperial power outside the northern Russian city of St Petersburg.
Members of the G8 are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US.
War clouds over the Middle East following Israel's attacks on Lebanon and Gaza - aimed at winning the release of three Israeli soldiers being held by militants - look set to dominate the summit.
US President George W Bush arrived Friday for the three-day meeting after talks in Germany where he backed Israel's right to defend itself as Israeli jets bombed Beirut's airport and other Lebanese infrastructure.
The US also this week blocked an Arab-backed United Nations Security Council resolution demanding Israel halt its military operation in the Gaza Strip.
Bush's hands-off position on the Middle East contrasts with Russian condemnation of both Israel's assault on Lebanon and military actions in the Gaza. Russia is hosting the G8 summit.
"This is a disproportionate response...I think that all this will develop in a very dramatic and tragic way," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
G8 members France, Britain, Italy and Germany, meanwhile, have endorsed a European Union call for Israel to show restraint.
Iran's nuclear programme is another top issue on the G8 agenda.
The US, Canada and EU states are pushing for sanctions against Tehran. "We're not kidding. It's a serious issue. The world is united in insisting that (Iran) not have a nuclear weapons programme," said Bush this week.
However, Russia and non-G8 member China - which will attend the summit on Monday as a special guest - have made clear they will veto any United Nations attempt to impose sanctions on Iran.
Iran's backing for the Hezbollah militant group in southern Lebanon, which has captured two of the Israeli soldiers being held, is expected to further harden Western attitudes towards Tehran.
Bush has denounced Hezbollah as a "group of terrorists who want to stop the advance of peace."
Japan and the US are set to lead calls for a tougher line on North Korea following last week's missile tests. However, here again Russia and China are anxious to soften the reaction.
Fears that the Mumbai train bombings may derail efforts to forge peace between India and Pakistan are adding to G8 jitters over the worsening global security situation.
In other business, G8 leaders will seek to kick-start stalled World Trade Organization (WTO) talks aimed at liberalizing global trade.
WTO chief Pascal Lamy is expected to attend the G8 meeting on Monday when leaders discuss the fate of the Doha trade round launched five years ago.
President Bush is under pressure from European countries as well as Brazil and India to cut costly trade-distorting subsidies paid out to US farmers. Washington has said it will only do so if the EU slashes farm tariffs and poor countries cut import duties on manufactures.
President Vladimir Putin, hosting the G8's first-ever summit in Russia, hopes to use the meeting to showcase his country's new assertive global posture and growing prosperity fuelled by record oil prices.
But Bush and other Western leaders are under domestic pressure to raise concerns over Russian democracy, human rights and the judiciary.
Even Putin's official energy agenda looks set to cause further discord.
Russian companies, including state gas giant Gazprom, want to be allowed to buy Western energy assets so they can sell the country's massive reserves of natural gas and oil directly to consumers.
However, other G8 members are more concerned with bolstering diversity of energy sources due to fears caused by Russia's brief halting of gas deliveries to Ukraine last January over a pricing dispute
Record oil price highs and fears of further price hikes given the standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions and worsening security situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan are further G8 woes.
Oil rose to new record highs of over $78 a barrel on Friday and analysts predict the price could break through the $80 dollar ceiling.
Subject: German news