G8 Summit debates Middle-east crisis, WTO trade talks

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Monday, July 17, 2006

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The leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) nations met over the weekend in St. Petersburg in Russia for the 32nd G8 Summit, held under Russia's presidency, to discuss the ongoing Israel-Lebanon crisis, the stalled world trade talks and other issues. They also met with other world leaders, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy.

G8 leaders and other delegates gather for the customary photo-session (Source: G8 Website)

Israel-Lebanon crisis

The G8 leaders issued a statement expressing "deepening concern" over the unfolding crisis as Israel and Hezbollah militants operating out of Lebanon continued their attacks which have already killed scores.

G8 Statement on the crisis

The statement called for the safe return of the captured Israeli soldiers and restraint from Israel in its military actions.

The statement said the "root cause" of the crisis was the "absence of a comprehensive Middle East peace", but "extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos,".

The statement noted the rising civilian casualties on all sides and damage to infrastructure and called for an end to violence.

The statement called for the safe return of the Israeli soldiers who were abducted in Gaza and Lebanon, an end to shelling of Israeli territory, asking Hezbollah to make the first move to end the crisis.

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It urged Israel to be mindful of "the strategic and humanitarian consequences of its actions" and "to exercise utmost restraint, seeking to avoid casualties among innocent civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure and to refrain from acts that would destabilize the Lebanese government." It also called for an end to Israeli military operations, withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and the release of the arrested Palestinian ministers and parliamentarians. The statement said that Israel "needs to refrain from unilateral acts that could prejudice a final settlement and agree to negotiate in good faith," .

Summit leaders express differing opinions

Speaking to reporters, the assembled leaders did demonstrate some differences in their views on the conflict.

United States President George W. Bush said on Sunday that Hezbollah and its links with Iran and Syria is a root cause of instability in the Middle East. United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair said that extremists backed by Syria and Iran wanted to interrupt the [peace] process. Tony Blair suggested that he was keen to travel to the Middle-East personally in discussions with George W. Bush, but George Bush suggested that Condoleezza Rice should travel there instead.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had earlier termed Israel's actions as excessive and on Saturday said that Israel was pursuing "other, wider goals". He also told reporters that Russia has specifically insisted on dropping any reference to Syria and Iran as Hezbollah supporters in the summit declaration.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters, "We demand first that the Israeli soldiers be returned to Israel healthy, that the attacks on Israel cease, and then naturally for Israel to halt military action."

While French President Jacques Chirac said on Sunday that the G8 is calling for a ceasefire, the US Undersecretary of State for political affairs Nicholas Burns disagreed and said that there was no push for one. Chirac had also expressed "extreme reservations about the disproportionate character of the Israeli reactions," but no such language was incorporated into the G8 statement.

Call for UN action

The summit declaration called on the UN Security Council to draw up plans for implementing its resolutions UNSCR 1559 and 1680, which call for extending the Lebanese government's authority over all of Lebanon and the disarming of militias such as Hezbollah. It also suggested that the Council should look at setting up a monitoring force in Lebanon.

The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that Security Council members would follow up on the declaration and that starting Monday, work out a detailed plan for deploying a multilateral security force in Lebanon.

Reactions from the Middle-east

Israel later welcomed the Summit statement, supporting its call for Hezbollah to free the Israeli soldiers and halt rocket fire into Israel. Israel's Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni said that the international community has "placed the responsibility for the conflict on extremist elements," and that Israel "sees the path to a solution through the release of the abducted soldiers, a cessation of rocket fire on Israel, and full implementation of (U.N.) resolution 1559,".

In initial reaction to the proposed deployment, Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said, "I don't think we're at that stage yet. We're at the stage where we want to be sure that Hezbollah is not deployed at our northern border,".

In an address to the nation, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora urged an immediate cease-fire and establishment of the government's sovereignty in all Lebanese territory with help from the UN. It requested humanitarian aid and called for international pressure on Israel to stop its attacks. Disclaiming prior knowledge or responsibility for Hezbollah's capture of Israeli soldiers, the Prime Minister termed Israel's actions as "collective punishment".

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said yesterday that Hezbollah would not disarm, despite calls from the US and "Zionists" (Israel). Iran says it offers moral but not military support to the Hezbollah and has denied Israeli accusations that Iranian arms have been used in the latest conflict.

Syria spoke of a "harsh and direct" response to any attack by Israel. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Saturday that Syria will put its resources at the disposal of Lebanon to help cope with Israeli attacks devastating the country.

WTO Trade talks

The leaders of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa and the World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy were also present at the final session of their three-day summit.

They joined the G8 leaders in addressing the stalled negotiations in the Doha round of the WTO trade negotiations. The talks were deadlocked over US cuts on farm subsidies, the EU cuts on tariffs on farm goods and developing countries opening their markets for industrial goods and services.

Timely progress in the talks is crucial as the US president's special authority to negotiate trade deals will expire in a year.

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G8 powers have asked their trade negotiators and Pascal Lamy to broker a breakthrough on the stalled talks, giving WTO members one month to revive the Doha round.

A statement released said that the G8 was "fully committed to the development dimension of ongoing WTO talks." and that "The Doha Round should deliver real cuts in tariffs, effective cuts in subsidies and real new trade flows,".

"In agriculture we are committed to substantially reducing trade-distorting domestic support and to the parallel elimination by the end of 2013 of all forms of export subsidies a well as establishment of effective disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect as agreed in Hong Kong, the statement said.

The G8 also expressed support for Russia's entry into WTO in accordance with the rules that apply to all its members.

Assistance to Africa and other issues

While assistance to Africa was top of the agenda at last year's summit, this year it figured in the final session attended by Kofi Annan and the African Union delegation. Mr. Annan cited progress in implementing last years plans, but said much more needs to be done.

"Fourteen African countries have been given complete debt relief, eight more have had substantial debt relief. We've seen some progress in development assistance. For the first time in many years we have gone over 100 billion dollars," he said.

The formal agenda of the meeting included securing energy supplies, boosting world trade talks and addressing a standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Summit leaders approved documents on education and fighting infectious diseases, discussed high world oil prices and the state of democracy in Russia and renewed a pledge to combat the AIDS crisis, though no detailed funding plan for it was agreed upon.

Bush also met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and discussed the standoff over nuclear power in Iran and nuclear weapons in North Korea.

A statement was also released reiterating the leaders' condemnation of terrorism and resolve to combat it. The leaders expressed outrage at the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai, India which killed close to 200 people.

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