July 15, 2006

G8 seeks common position over Middle East violence

By Michael Steen

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - The leaders of the Group
of Eight industrialized nations will seek on Sunday to close a
widening rift over how best to calm violence in the Middle

Israel's bombing of Lebanon has forced its way to the top
of the agenda of the G8 summit in St Petersburg, driving a
wedge between the United States, a strong backer of Israel, and
those who say Israel is being too violent.

Israel launched its most destructive onslaught on Lebanon
since its 1982 invasion after Hizbollah guerillas captured two
of its soldiers and killed eight. Its air strikes killed 25
civilians on Saturday.

Speaking at a midnight briefing after dining with the
leaders of the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain, France,
Germany and Italy, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused
Israel of having ulterior motives in its military action.

"We need to make utmost efforts to solve this with peaceful
means," he said. "We condemn any terrorist act including
hostage taking but we have the impression that besides the
return of its abducted soldiers, Israel is pursuing other,
wider goals."

He did not specify what those goals were.

France and the European Union have called the Israeli
response excessive to Hizbollah militant attacks, but President
Bush firmly blamed the violence on Hizbollah.

Despite the split, the G8 countries were working on a
declaration on the situation in the Middle East and were
hopeful it could be passed tomorrow, a G8 source told Reuters.

Putin had set energy security as the main theme for the
annual summit, being held for the first time in Russia.

But other topics threaten to crowd that item to the
summit's margins. A faltering global trade agreement, North
Korea and Iran were certain to come up during talks in a
restored 18th century palace on the shore of the Gulf of

On North Korea's missile launches, the leaders would be
able to start with a common position after a U.N. Security
Council resolution adopted unanimously on Saturday imposed
weapons-related sanctions on the secretive state.

But discussions over Iran's nuclear program threatened to
be more fractious, with Russia opposing for now any talk of
U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Pledges made at last year's summit in Gleneagles, Scotland
will also be reviewed, including a session on aid to Africa.
The leaders agreed last year to boost spending on Africa but
aid agencies have argued little new money was on offer.

(Additional reporting by Gernot Heller)