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Wealthy Nations Talk Security

The Group of 8 issues a warning to Iran and North Korea and unites in terror fight.

June 04, 2003|Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writer

EVIAN, France — A summit of the world's wealthiest industrialized countries ended here Tuesday with more than a whimper but less than a bang.

The leaders of the Group of 8 nations spent three days trying to overcome rifts caused by the war in Iraq and to address the demands of critics who accuse the G-8 of being an aloof rich-man's club.

The summit produced a few concrete achievements, mainly in the area of global security. The leaders announced plans to create a joint counter-terrorism task force and a program to combat the spread of shoulder-fired missiles, a weapon terrorists could use to bring down civilian aircraft. The leaders also sternly warned North Korea and Iran against developing weapons of mass destruction.

"We strongly urge North Korea to visibly, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle any nuclear weapons programs," the representatives said in a statement. In closing remarks Tuesday, they added, "We have addressed the consequences, in terms of proliferation, of the advanced state of Iran's nuclear program."

In addition, the leaders demonstrated their ability to affect issues merely by mentioning them. After words of concern about currency stability from President Bush and his counterparts Monday, the U.S. dollar finally slowed its headlong slide of the last month -- a welcome development for Europeans worried that an overly strong euro would hurt their export and tourism industries.

The summit also generated some generalities condemning famine, disease, poverty and other scourges. But there was little movement toward even partial solutions, such as resolving an impasse in international talks on trade reform.

As often happens, the event was shaped by issues beyond the G-8's direct purview -- such as the reconstruction of Iraq -- and by personalities, in this case a much-anticipated fence-mending session between Bush and French President Jacques Chirac, a critic of the U.S.-led war. Bush and Chirac made nice during a 25-minute one-on-one meeting Monday. France announced it would send peacekeepers to Afghanistan; Bush lauded Chirac's wisdom on Middle East affairs.

But Bush stole Chirac's show by leaving town a day early and taking the attention of the world with him to peace talks in the Mideast.

Although bottom-line-oriented Americans may find it hard to appreciate the elaborate pageantry and bureaucracy of events such as the G-8 summit, for Europeans the meeting process itself is often as much a goal as any concrete result. Shrugging off Bush's calculatedly hasty exit, Chirac reveled in his role as master of ceremonies.

Throughout his presidency and particularly during the heated debate over Iraq, Chirac has portrayed himself as the spokesman of a developing world that needs protection from the steamroller of globalization. And he can take credit for an innovation that was acknowledged even by the throngs of antiglobalization protesters who filled the streets of nearby Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland.

Chirac invited the leaders of China, Brazil, India and 10 other developing countries to express their ideas and concerns in person at the summit. A highlight of the meeting was the presentation Sunday by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former factory worker, who proposed initiatives such as taxing arms sales to pay for food programs.

Chirac also reached out to nongovernmental organizations that are often critical of the G-8, which, in addition to France and the U.S., includes Italy, Britain, Germany, Russia, Japan and Canada. And he urged future summit hosts to continue the practice of inviting nonmember nations, asserting that their presence makes the body more inclusive and responsive.

"Our goal was to listen to them, and it was fruitful," Chirac told journalists Monday. He pointed out that the assembled leaders had represented "two-thirds of the world's population and three-fourths of the world's wealth."

Still, Chirac was accused of self-serving duplicity. Describing his display of sensitivity toward the downtrodden as "politically able," a coalition of antiglobalization protesters pointed out that Chirac's government is pushing pension changes that have angered labor unions, prompting them to launch crippling strikes this week. The protest leaders accused him of "making overtures to the outside world" while promoting harsh policies at home.

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