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Shadow of Iraq takes a seat at summit of the powerful

By Associated Press,
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 30, 2003

WASHINGTON - Even after pledges of reconciliation, this year's economic summit of some of the world's most powerful countries promises to be one of the most unusual.

The Iraq war exposed a big rift among trans-Atlantic allies. And while leaders say they will seek agreement on boosting a sluggish global economy, fighting AIDS and promoting Middle East peace, President Bush's decision to leave early will be a sharp reminder of remaining differences.

France, Germany, Russia and Canada - the four Group of Eight summit countries that opposed the war - have sought in recent days to heal the divisions. Their leaders insist they are looking forward to a productive three days of talks in Evian, a French alpine spa.

"Although there is some anxiety, I am convinced that Evian can convey a message of confidence in world economic growth," French President Jacques Chirac said.

Thursday, President Bush extended an olive branch to French President Jacques Chirac and praised France's cooperation in the war against terrorism.

"I'm not mad," Bush said in a French television interview. "I mean, I'm disappointed and the American people are disappointed" over France's successful efforts this spring to prevent the United Nations from authorizing the U.S. war against Iraq. Asked if he would forgive France, Bush said, "Sure."

But the White House said Bush will cut his time in Evian to a little more than 24 hours. He will leave at midafternoon Monday to fly to the Middle East for intensive consultations with Arab and Israeli leaders aimed at getting Mideast peace talks back on track.

Bush aides say the president will use his European trip, which will include stops in Poland and in St. Petersburg, Russia, to repair damaged relations and point toward future areas of cooperation.

"We have a large common agenda," said Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser. She said the president would focus his summit discussions on controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, fighting disease and poverty in poor nations and encouraging global trade and growth.

Given the precarious state of the world economy, marked by a sluggish U.S. recovery and the possibility of Europe and Japan toppling back into recession, bickering among the world's major economic powers would not be welcomed by financial markets.

"A lot of people are waiting to see whether the rancor that surrounded the Iraq war spills over into the economic arena," said Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International in New York. "If it does, it would be profoundly destabilizing for financial markets."

Bush wants to convey to France and Germany "there is a price to pay for defying the United States in the way that they did," said Ivo Daalder, who was a National Security Council European expert in the Clinton administration.

Given the discord over Iraq, expectations for accomplishments at the Evian summit are low.

Getting global trade talks back on track, Iraq reconstruction and the need for financial support from other countries, Bush's new efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the nuclear threats posed by North Korea and Iran will also be G-8 discussion topics.

- Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

The Group of Eight

Here are the Group of Eight nations, their leaders and summit strategies:

UNITED STATES: President Bush plans to push forward on a broad front - from re-energizing the Middle East peace process with his "road map" plan, to prodding other nations to do more to combat global poverty and AIDS.

RUSSIA: President Vladimir Putin is seeking to provide diplomatic assistance to the United States in dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat. However, the two countries are split over the support Russia is providing to build a nuclear power plant in Iran, which the United States suspects is secretly embarking on a nuclear weapons program.

FRANCE: President Jacques Chirac hopes to use the summit to repair strained U.S-French relations. France, the former colonial master of several African nations, is expected to push for more aid to Africa under the New Partnership for African Development, or NEPAD, which was launched at last year's G-8 summit in Canada.

BRITAIN: Prime Minister Tony Blair's biggest political problem at the moment is a decision, expected in June, on whether Britain will join 12 European countries in adopting the euro as a common currency. Blair is expected to follow the lead of his Treasury chief, Gordon Brown, in deciding to stick with the British pound.

GERMANY: Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, seeking to repair relations with the United States, said in a recent speech that both countries need to look ahead. Germany is expected to offer help in Iraq reconstruction.

CANADA: Prime Minister Jean Chretien has moved to repair U.S.-Canada relations. Chretien said he and President Bush have discussed the need to promote global economic growth and issues relating to the reconstruction of Iraq. Canada has pledged resources including police, prison and legal experts and transport planes.

ITALY: Premier Silvio Berlusconi's country is contributing about 3,000 people, including military police officers and relief workers, to reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Berlusconi's summit priorities include combating global terrorism.

JAPAN: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi used a five-nation European trip to build a consensus on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, which is the biggest issue for Japan at the G-8 summit.

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