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Deep divisions remain between Bush, world leaders

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) _ Ostensibly, President Bush got what he wanted: a photogenic gathering of world leaders on his turf that, by making him look the statesman, could help his tough battle for re-election this November.

But the harmony on display at the Group of Eight summit only covered so many cracks. On the future of Iraq and other vital issues, Bush and European leaders are still far apart.

With Bush facing charges from John Kerry, his Democratic presidential challenger, that he has alienated traditional American allies, the White House worked hard to project an image of success, bolstered by the recent U.N. Security Council vote on Iraq.

An army of police and troops kept the few protesters far from the plush resort on Sea Island where Bush gathered the leaders together, whisking some of them around on electric cars before whirring cameras.

Bush said he felt the gathering's biggest accomplishment was endorsing his initiative to promote economic and democratic reforms in the Middle East and North Africa.

But even here there was dispute. European leaders warned that change cannot be imposed on the Middle East.

Jordan cautioned that doing so could backfire. Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would not contribute money, and the European Union pointed out that many of the initiatives were already being carried out by European countries.

French President Jacques Chirac and his German counterpart, Gerhard Schroeder _ both unreformed opponents of the war that toppled Saddam Hussein _ shot down Bush's hopes that NATO might commit more troops to Iraq.

Not acceptable, said Chirac, who reiterated that last year's U.S.-led invasion was ``neither necessary nor useful'' and ``costly in all senses of the word.''

While not ruling out the possibility of NATO training Iraqi troops, Chirac said direct involvement by the western military alliance would be fraught with ``risk of a clash between the Christian West and the Muslim East.''

At his closing news conference, Bush conceded it is unrealistic to expect NATO countries to send more troops. That means the United States and Britain will continue to provide the bulk of forces in Iraq for now, although Bush said that over time, ``the solution for Iraqi security is going to be provided by the Iraqis.''

And British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's closest ally in Iraq, acknowledged that, ``You're never going to get people who were against removing Saddam and against the Iraq war to change their mind.''

Four of the countries in the G-8 group, the United States, Britain, Italy and Japan, have forces in Iraq. The other four _ France, Germany, Russia and Canada _ do not, and their leaders gave no sign of changing that.

Nor was there agreement on slashing Iraq's estimated $120 billion debt _ a burden the Bush administration says could derail hopes of getting the nation's economy going again.

Again, Chirac wouldn't budge. Slashing the debt by more than half, the French leader argued, would be unfair to other, poorer nations also saddled with debt.

``Iraq is a potentially rich country,'' he said. ``How would you explain to these people that in three months we are going to do more for Iraq than we have done in 10 years for the 37 poorest and most indebted countries in the world?''

The fight against global warming, an issue Britain says it will make a priority when it hosts the summit next year at Gleneagles, Scotland, was another area where the allies remained far apart.

``We made no progress whatsoever,'' said Chirac. He said of his efforts to alert Bush, a former oil industry man, to the dangers of climate change: ``It would be a total exaggeration to say that I won him over.''

While Iraq and the wider Middle East dominated the summit, the leaders did reached modest agreements on other issues like training 75,000 new peacekeepers to patrol war-torn countries over the next five years and coordinating efforts to find a vaccine against the AIDS virus.

The G-8 leaders also met with six African leaders on Thursday's final day of talks. But aid groups labeled the discussions a failure because the summit did not come through with any major increases in money for Africa.

``When all's said and done, a lot more was said than done,'' said Mark Fried of international aid agency Oxfam.
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