July 17, 2006

G8 to give trade a push amid strains over Mideast

By Caren Bohan and David Clarke

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Group of Eight leaders
met key developing countries 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 and its G8 partners, in a final session
of their summit, were locked in talks with global trade players
including Brazil, India and China, who are pushing for a better
deal for the world's poorer nations.

Meanwhile, 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 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 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 statement.

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.

The initial reaction from Israel, however, was cool. "I
don't think we're at that stage yet. We're at the stage where
we want to be sure that Hizbollah is not deployed at our
northern border," Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin


G8 leaders at their three-day summit in a tsarist-era
palace on the rain-lashed Gulf of Finland agreed on Sunday to
set a one-month deadline to map out a framework to close the
five-year-old Doha trade round, snagged mainly on agriculture.

By bringing in leaders from Brazil, China, India, Mexico
and South Africa as guests, they sought to restart the push for
an elusive global trade pact.

Key sticking points are U.S. farm subsidies and the extent
to which the European Union cuts tariffs on farm goods and
developing countries open their markets to industrial goods and

The United States said it was sending Trade Representative
Susan Schwab on Monday to Geneva, headquarters of the World
Trade Organization. The WTO later said six key trade ministers
would meet its chief Pascal Lamy in Geneva on Monday.

Earlier, President Bush and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio
Lula da Silva urged a redoubling of efforts to break the

"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, was also on the agenda for the session to be
attended by Annan and the African Union.

Annan said there had been progress since the 2005 G8 summit
in Gleneagles, Scotland, "but there is much more to be done."

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.

Summit host Vladimir Putin, under fire from the U.S.
leadership and others in the West and Russia for his record on
democracy, pledged to his partners that he would not change the
constitution to give himself a third term beyond 2008.

Putin himself brought up the issue of democracy over dinner
on Sunday, initiating "a frank but friendly discussion," a G8
diplomat said.

Putin's critics say his six years in power have been flawed
by a tightening grip on the mass media, a clampdown on
political opponents 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

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason)