July 17, 2006

G8 to give push to trade

By Caren Bohan and David Clarke

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Group of Eight leaders
met on Monday to give a push to world trade talks at a
big-power summit strained by divisions over the Middle East.

The United States squabbled openly with G8 partner France
over interpretation of a joint summit declaration that urged
Israel to be restrained in its offensive in Lebanon but told
Hezbollah it had to make the first moves to end the crisis.

France's Jacques Chirac, who has differed already with
Washington by criticizing Israeli action as excessive, said
late on Sunday that the G8 was basically calling for a

"It is clear that the G8 is calling for a ceasefire. I can
tell you that the whole of the G8 has called for a ceasefire in
Gaza and Lebanon," he told reporters.

But Washington, Israel's big backer, flatly contradicted
him. "There was no push for a ceasefire this weekend,"
UnderSecretary of State for political affairs Nicholas Burns
told reporters.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan meanwhile said
Security Council members would on Monday start hammering out a
detailed agreement on deploying a multilateral security force
to Lebanon, following up a proposal in the weekend G8

After talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the
summit, Annan said he would push ahead with the plan as a
matter of urgency.

With China's President Hu Jintao in St Petersburg as an
observer, all five permanent members were present at the

"I intend to pursue this with the other leaders, as I have
with the prime minister, later on," Annan said.


G8 leaders on Monday, in the final session of their
three-day summit in Russia held in a tsarist-era palace on the
rain-lashed Gulf of Finland, brought in leaders of Brazil,
China, India, Mexico and South Africa as guests.

Their presence set the stage for talks on how to restart
the push for an elusive global trade pact.

The G8 powers have asked their trade negotiators and World
Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy, also at the final
session, to broker a breakthrough on the stalled Doha round of

President Bush and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva, meeting before the session, urged a redoubling of
efforts to break the impasse.

Silva warned that negotiators were running out of options.

"I am convinced that now is the time for us to make a
political decision," the Brazilian leader said, adding that
negotiators "don't have any hidden cards in their pockets" so
it was critical for leaders to get involved.

Assistance to Africa, put at the top of last year's summit
by Britain's Blair but initially ignored by Russia for this
year's meeting, will be discussed during the session also
attended by Annan and the African Union.

Other unfinished business for summit leaders was likely to
be a possible comment on high world oil prices to calm volatile
markets and on the standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

G8 leaders, who met at dinner on Sunday, had "a frank
discussion" with Russian President Vladimir Putin on his
performance in bringing democracy to Russia, a G8 diplomat

Critics of Putin both in Russia and the West say his six
years in power have been flawed by a tightening grip on the
mass media, neutralizing of the political opposition and
centralization of power in the Kremlin.

Many of them have said Russia under Putin is not fit to be
a full member of the elite G8 club of industrialized

The diplomat said Putin gave an account of developments
inside Russia. In the past, he has defended himself in such
situations by saying Russia is developing democracy according
to its own culture, history and traditions.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason)