Secluded G-8 summiteers approve twin packages for Africa and Russia

Friday, June 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANANASKIS, Alberta (AP) _ The annual meeting of the world's eight most powerful countries produced a surprising number of winners, and few losers, for a summit convened in seclusion and under extraordinary post-Sept. 11 security.

Leaders attributed the remote location and their unprecedented freedom to move within a tight security cordon for their achievements during the two-day summit that ended Thursday: a broad commitment to spur African development, billions of dollars to secure Russia's vulnerable weapons stockpiles and Russia's full membership in the Group of Eight wealthy nations.

``The Kananaskis summit has demonstrated the value of the G-8 process, and how we can develop concrete solutions to the problems we face today,'' Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said.

Despite concerns that President Bush's Middle East initiative and focus on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's removal from power would hijack the summit, Chretien kept the course he charted, winning support for twin aid packages during meetings at a Rocky Mountain resort.

Leaders forged a pact with African nations pledging development aid, foreign investment and additional debt relief to countries that show progress eliminating government corruption and pursuing free-market reforms.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the plan could be ``a turning point in African history.'' Activists, however, complained that the program was not adequate to help the continent meet the U.N. goal of cutting extreme poverty in half and getting millions of children into school by 2015.

But Chretien said the plan would give countries that want to make reforms the support they need. ``Today we have acted collectively to make sure that globalization benefits all, and no continent is left behind,'' he said.

The leaders also pledged up to $20 billion over 10 years to help Russia dispose of its deadly arsenal of aging nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denied there was a threat that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists, but said Russia was grateful for assistance in eliminating them.

Bush's Middle East initiative attracted a great amount of discussion, with most leaders emphasizing the parts of the plan they endorse and playing down the president's call for Arafat's ouster. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder saw Bush's clear support for a separate Palestinian state as a breakthrough in U.S. policy, and said the other leaders had expressed their admiration for the plan.

``I am very pleased with the response to my proposal in the Middle East,'' Bush said. ``Most European leaders understand something has to change for there to be peace.''

None, however, were ready to say, as Bush suggested, that Palestinians risked financial aid if Arafat won re-election. Instead, they indicated a hope that the Palestinian people, if not Arafat himself, would see the potential rewards of change.

``Many are convinced that Arafat, the Nobel peace prize winner, would make a generous gesture and remove himself,'' Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi said. ``He would be remembered in history as a man who gave everything for the liberty of his country.''

Just a little more than a decade since it was tagged an enemy of the free world, Russia was drawn even tighter into the community of democratic nations, gaining full membership in the Group of Eight beginning in 2006. From then on, Russian leaders will join financial discussions, as well as political ones.

The move reflects Moscow's enhanced relationship with the West since the terror attacks in the United States. Just a month ago, Russia and NATO inaugurated a new council to fight common security threats in the post-Sept. 11 world.

In a preview, Russia has invited leaders from the European Union along with the other G-8 members _ the United States, Canada and Japan _ to meet in St. Petersburg on May 31 on the eve of a summit of G-8 leaders in France.

If anyone left the summit less than satisfied, it was Japan. Though officials tried to put a good face on it, Japan was reluctant to support many of the major issues.

Japanese officials weren't completely happy with the G-8 decision to allow Russia to host its summit in 2006 or to provide it with cash to secure weapons stockpiles. Japan is often at odds with Russia because of a decades-long dispute over several islands that Russia seized from Japan at the end of World War II.

``We believe the primary responsibility is with Russia,'' Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said of the nonproliferation issue. ``But because this is a matter that will benefit the whole world, we are willing to contribute, despite our difficult fiscal situation.''

Still, the leaders described a laid-back atmosphere at the Rocky Mountain retreat that facilitated progress on even thorny issues. With delegations limited to 36 instead of the usual hundreds, leaders met alone without note takers and were able to speak more informally.

The location also had the effect of diffusing anti-globalization protests, which last year marred the summit in Genoa, Italy.