July 16, 2006

G8 clears decks before tackling Mideast crisis

By Steve Holland and David Clarke

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - World leaders at a
big-power summit on Sunday strove to forge a unified position
on the Middle East crisis after President Bush uncompromisingly
said Israel had the right to defend itself.

With pressure on the Group of Eight to respond to the
growing violence, world leaders closeted in a tsarist-era
palace on the Gulf of Finland raced through approval of
documents on pre-planned themes including promoting secure
energy supplies.

Differences on the merits of promoting nuclear energy and
on how to tackle climate change were papered over. Host-nation
Russia conceded to European Union demands to support in
principle transparent and open energy markets.

But the worsening Middle East situation, where Israel is
bombing Lebanon to punish Hizbollah guerrilla attacks across
its border, dominated the thoughts of leaders.

Bush repeated U.S. support for Israel's right to
self-defence and refused to ask it to halt its offensive.

"Our message to Israel is defend yourself but be mindful of
the consequences, so we are urging restraint," he said. He did
not back Lebanese calls for an immediate truce.

Echoing Bush, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said
she had told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the United
States was "deeply concerned" over the safety of civilians. An
immediate ceasefire would not solve the problem, she said.

Though all the G8 leaders have condemned the actions of
Hizbollah militants, France has said the Jewish state's
military response is excessive and Russia's Vladimir Putin said
Israel appeared to be "pursuing other, wider goals."

"The sherpas (senior national negotiators) are still
working on a joint statement (on Middle East). We don't know
when it'll come out," a French diplomatic source said.


The United States earlier blocked any move by the U.N.
Security Council to demand a ceasefire, saying the focus for
diplomacy should be on the summit in St Petersburg.

French President Jacques Chirac called for a lasting
ceasefire and "a show of moderation."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the way to calm the
violence was to tackle the reasons behind it, blaming Hizbollah
and its allies Syria and Iran.

Hinting at a struggle to heal divisions over the Middle
East, Blair told reporters G8 leaders would work hard for "a
common and unified position."

"The only way we are going to get this situation calm and
we are going to get a cessation of hostilities is if we address
the reasons why the situation has arisen," he said.

Hizbollah guerrillas launched their deadliest attack on
Israel in a decade on Sunday, killing at least eight people in
the port city of Haifa, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert to warn Lebanon of "far-reaching consequences."


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

A statement on "Global Energy Security" approved at the
summit acknowledged splits over nuclear energy and climate
change among the world's top economies.

Nuclear energy, which is making a comeback worldwide,
especially in Asia, produces no greenhouse gases and has been
hailed by some environmentalists as a good way of protecting
the climate while meeting growing demand for electricity.

But some G8 powers worry nuclear energy is dangerous and
Germany is committed to phase-out its plants by the early

Leaders also approved documents on fighting infectious
diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis, and on education.

Other topics crowding the agenda included Iran, North Korea
and a faltering global trade agreement.

On North Korea's missile launches the leaders will 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.

Rice hailed the resolution, saying it showed an
international unity that would help get Pyongyang back to
six-party talks.

"Ultimately, North Korea will have no choice but to return
to the talks and pursue de-nuclearisation of the Korean
penninsula," Rice said.

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 has been on offer.

(Additional reporting by Sophie Louet, Douglas Busvine, Lou