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World leaders pledge $40 billion to bolster 'Arab Spring'

At the G-8 summit in France, Obama wins support for aid to shore up emerging democracies and movements. Aid groups are skeptical, noting that the G-8 is behind on previous financial pledges.

May 28, 2011|By Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times
  • President Obama talks to French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy after a working lunch during the G-8 summit in Deauville, France.
President Obama talks to French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy after a working… (Pool Photo )

Reporting from Deauville, France — World leaders vowed to put more money behind emerging democratic governments in North Africa, announcing plans for $40 billion in aid and support from wealthy nations as well as international development agencies.

The pledge came at the conclusion of the Group of 8 international summit in France at which President Obama exhorted other leaders to provide economic assistance and debt forgiveness to strengthen new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia and to encourage popular movements elsewhere.

However, leaders did not specify timetables or how much individual countries would contribute or receive. Generally, they said, $10 billion would come from nations that are members of the G-8 industrial nations — the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Russia, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Another $10 billion would come from wealthy Persian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, and $20 billion more would come from agencies such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

Outside aid groups questioned the value of the package because the G-8 is behind on previous financial pledges.

But the Obama administration counted the G-8 summit's official statement as an important achievement, in part because it presents a display of international resolve behind movements in the Middle East and North Africa and an investment in their economies.

"More important than any numerical figure, I think, is the vision that it lays out," said Michael Froman, an advisor to Obama on international economics.

At the end of the two-day summit, leaders of the eight countries also agreed to step up pressure on Syria and other governments that have been using violence to suppress popular dissent.

And despite disagreements about how to divide responsibility for the NATO air campaign in Libya, leaders pledged to see the effort through to its end.

Even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, previously noncommittal on the issue, told Obama that he believes it is time for Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi to leave power, senior U.S. officials said.

"We are joined in resolve to finish the job," Obama said as he headed into Friday's session, the final one before his afternoon departure to Poland.

In Tripoli, Khaled Kaim, Libya's deputy foreign minister, cited decades of cooperation with Russia in response to Medvedev's comment. Libyan officials were seeking an official position from Moscow, Kaim said.

Leaders at the G-8 drew comparisons between the new Arab democracies and the revolutions that swept through Eastern Europe, including Poland, beginning more than 20 years ago.

"There was a lot of discussion about how does this compare to the fall of the Berlin Wall, what the G-7 at that time did to help drive institutional reform," Froman said.

Obama arrived Friday afternoon in Warsaw, where he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Later, he visited the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, commemorating the Jewish uprising against the Nazis, and attended a dinner for Central and European Union leaders at the presidential palace.

Negotiators for the G-8 leaders met into the night Thursday to hammer out a consensus on aid for Egypt and Tunisia. Whereas Obama favored specific pledges, other leaders, especially the Canadians, preferred to work primarily through international institutions.

Egypt's new leaders have asked for $9 billion to $12 billion to get them started this year; Tunisia is seeking $5 billion.

International aid groups questioned the credibility of the G-8 pledges and promises of development bank assistance. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which tracks the flow of international aid, reported that wealthy nations fell $19 billion short of commitments made at a 2005 G-8 summit for aid to poor countries, including in Africa.

"The G-8 needs to follow through on previous promises, not just move funds from other accounts for the region," said John Ruthrauff, director of international advocacy for InterAction, a nongovernmental organization.

"In terms of the 'Arab Spring' commitments, we are hopeful that the G-8 nations will keep their commitments," Ruthrauff said, "but their record has not always been stellar in this regard."

The world leaders have failed in particular to deliver in their partnership with Africa, said Emma Seery of the anti-poverty group Oxfam International.

"Unless they also deliver on their existing commitments to fight poverty," Seery said, "what's to say this is not just another batch of empty promises?"

In addition to economic development, the group also voiced support for the "aspirations of the Arab Spring" along with those of the people of Iran. The leaders called on the Syrian government to end the use of violence against protesters.

cparsons@latimes.com

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