Originally created 06/11/04

Meetings reflect renewed harmony

SAVANNAH, Ga. - As the world leaders wrapped up their discussions Thursday on Sea Island, analysts were attempting to put the G-8 Summit in perspective.

Typically, annual summits don't break much new ground but are more of a chance for the leaders to strengthen their personal ties - connections that are handy when they have to ask each other for support on sticky policy issues. President Bush succeeded in mending some strained relations with allies, especially with France and Germany.

"For no other reason than that, it has played a useful role," said Anthony Arend, professor of government at Georgetown University. "At least we're at a period where people are talking to one another."

The harmony at the summit table also should help Mr. Bush in the eyes of foreigners.

"It's been positive to the president to show that he's not a unilateralist, which is something that he's been accused of abroad," said Jon B. Alterman, the director of the middle east program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Mr. Bush has softened his position considerably on Iraq, Mr. Alterman said, to win approval of the U.N. Security Council resolution Monday. The unanimous vote signaled the breadth of support Mr. Bush has gotten, something that wouldn't have been likely a few months ago.

"On Iraq, you've seen a remarkable change in U.S. policy," he said.

Among the issues of major importance to come out of the summit, they said, are the agreements to Mr. Bush's Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative, discussion of the future role of the G-8 countries in Iraq and conversations regarding restarting stalled talks about dropping trade barriers.

The summit can still be one of "substantial achievement," said John Kirton, the director of the G-8 Research Group at the University of Toronto. But, he said, the extent of that achievement will depend on what the G-8 countries do going forward.

The G-8 nations are the United States, Russia, Canada, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Japan.

As an example of how an issue might play out, Mr. Kirton said that although British Prime Minister Tony Blair has focused on Africa - one of the focal points of the Sea Island summit - it remains to be seen how much attention will be paid to the Middle East at next year's meeting, which will be held in Great Britain.

"It's clear, as the president said, that this is the work of generations," said Mr. Kirton, who has been studying G-8 summits for decades.

"What we have to do is see if Tony Blair will signify that the Middle East will be a major issue."

But the world leaders won't have to wait another year to deal with some of the issues that came up at the summit. At the end of June, when the NATO leaders - including some of the G-8 countries - meet in Istanbul, Turkey, it's likely that the issue of troops in Iraq will once again be on the table.

Prior to this week's Security Council resolution concerning the transfer of authority in Iraq, leaders from France, Germany, Russia and Canada stressed that they would not get involved in the fighting.

Discussions at the summit concerned what supportive roles the individual nations or NATO forces could play.

In talks Wednesday, according to a U.S. senior administration official, French President Jacques Chirac did not offer a "firm red line of no's" regarding NATO involvement.

"We did hear some interest in consultation and possibly finding a suitable role for NATO," the official said.

Mr. Chirac did say, "I see myself with strong reservations on this initiative," perhaps a subtle change from his more hard-line statements before the U.N. vote that French troops would "never" be sent to Iraq.


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