July 16, 2006

G8 prepare to tackle MidEast crisis

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - World leaders at a
big-power summit on Sunday strove to forge a unified position
on the Middle East crisis as the United States strongly
defended Israel's right to defend itself from Hizbollah
militant attacks.

Under pressure to respond to the violence, Group of Eight
leaders closeted in a tsarist-era palace on the Gulf of Finland
raced through documents on pre-planned themes including
security of energy supply and sought to unblock world trade

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.

On trade, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
said G8 leaders agreed to give their negotiators a one-month
deadline to conclude the 5-year-long Doha round.

But the worsening Middle East situation, where Israel is
bombing Lebanon to punish Hizbollah guerrilla attacks across
its border, dominated the thoughts of leaders from Britain,
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United

French and German officials said G8 negotiators were trying
to work out a statement on the crisis. It was not clear when --
and if -- one would be released.

Bush early in the day reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel's
right to self-defense and refused to ask it to halt its bombing
of Lebanon.

"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 guerrillas, 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 United States earlier blocked any move by the U.N.
Security Council to demand a ceasefire.

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, he said 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 launched its deadliest attack on Israel in a
decade on Sunday, firing rockets that killed at least eight
people in the port city of Haifa and prompting Olmert to warn
Lebanon of "far-reaching consequences."


Putin had set energy security as the main theme for the
first G8 summit to be held in Russia.

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

Nuclear energy, which is making a comeback worldwide,
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 education, and on
fighting infectious diseases. They renewed a pledge to fight
the AIDS virus, but offered no detailed plan on how they would
fund the ambitious targets they have set.

Other topics on the agenda included Iran and North Korea.

On Pyongyang's missile launches the leaders were 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 the show of
international unity gave North Korea no choice but to return to
six-power talks and "pursue de-nuclearization of the Korean

Anti-globalization demonstrators, severely restricted by
the Russian police, conducted more small-scale protests.

Thirty-seven protesters, some of them European Union
nationals, were detained after briefly blocking St Petersburg's
main thoroughfare, said Olga Miryasova of campaign group the
Anti-G8 Network. Police confirmed only 22 detentions.

(Additional reporting by Sophie Louet, Douglas Busvine, Lou