G-8 Summit Opens in the U.S.

The U.S. flag flies at half-staff in honor of the passing of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan at the G-8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia on June 7, 2004. (Photo: Luke Frazza/AFP-Getty Images)

 Jerusalem The Jerusalem Post (conservative), June 8: Military aircraft drowned out the sound of surf, gunboats cruised a historic riverfront and Secret Service agents guarded a beach road as security tightened as world leaders meet in Sea Island, Georgia for this year's G-8 meeting in the U.S. But these were not enough to prevent the anticipated show-downs between Europe and the U.S. expected this year over subjects ranging from peace and democracy in the Middle East to the price of services provided to journalists at the conference…President George W. Bush is hoping his Greater Middle East Initiative will be a key accomplishment at this year's Group of Eight summit, which brings together leaders of the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia…Employing tough language, U.S. officials said a swelling population of undereducated and underemployed young people in the Middle East had to have hope for a better future if the world was to avoid rising extremism…Another senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that the Bush administration believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be used as an excuse by Arab countries to delay democratic reforms…The [G-8] document, to be released Wednesday, will press governments to step up efforts at promoting democracy and human rights and encourage greater participation by non-governmental groups.

Doha (English language), June 10: The quid pro quo agreement between G-8 organisers and Cingular Wireless allows for the renting of mobile phones. In return, Cingular will promote its products along a sprawling booth with a giant inflatable model of its X-shaped logo. But human rights and other groups that usually circulate at G-8 summits have been absent. One group that has been a fixture at previous summits, the international aide group Oxfam, said it was told not to come.

Beirut The Daily Star (English daily), June 7: Several Arab leaders have been invited [to the G-8 summit] and some have accepted to participate. The fact that some Arab leaders declined the invitation highlights the contentious nature of the reform issue. Many in the Middle East resent and reject the idea that the U.S. itself essentially defined and launched the concept of promoting political, social, economic and educational reform throughout the Middle East, mainly as a means of redressing terrorism from the region and enhancing American national security. It took the Middle East centuries to achieve today's state of distorted political and economic power, and change to improve things won't occur overnight. Yet grandiose regional plans by Washington to change most aspects of public life across a swath of some two dozen countries is also something of frenzied overkill. Promoting democracy is a good thing anywhere - and we hope that the G-8 summit reaches a reasonable understanding on how this might occur in the Middle East.

Singapore The Straits Times (pro-government), June 9: President Bush claimed victory ahead of the Security Council's resounding 15-0 endorsement on Tuesday of a U.S. resolution on Iraq. But his administration lowered expectations of gaining other countries' military support - one of the original goals…Of the powerful countries attending the summit…only the United States, Britain, Italy and Japan have troops in Iraq. Japan's non-combat troops perform humanitarian missions. Germany, France, Canada and Russia do not have troops in Iraq, and have said they will not send forces.

London The Guardian (liberal), June 10: Tensions between the U.S. and Europe resurfaced at the G-8 summit…when the French President, Jacques Chirac, said that greater NATO involvement in Iraq would be neither "timely nor well understood." He also gave strong backing to those Middle Eastern countries that have called on Mr. Bush to drop his support for the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, in order to clear the path for peace in the region. Mr. Bush by contrast was wholehearted in his support for Mr. Sharon's decision to pull out of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. Mr. Chirac said" "We must steer the parties back without delay on the road to political settlement, and halt the escalation of violence." Only by doing so would the G-8 "be able to dispel the hostility towards the west which is so widespread in the Middle East." Mr. Bush yesterday presented a watered down version of his plan to stabilize the region to the handful of Arab leaders that accepted invitations to attend a G-8 summit for the first time. The most feted was Iraq's newly appointed Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, who was praised by Mr. Bush for "having the courage to stand up and lead." Turkey and Jordan were broadly supportive of the plan. But leading Arab states including Saudi Arabia and Egypt snubbed the event to protest what they view as heavy-handed U.S. attempts to impose western values on their cultures. Mr. Bush's plan pushes for reforms such as free elections, independent media and improved legal systems. The plan includes training for judges and lawyers, loans to small businesses and campaigns to reduce literacy by 20 million people. It sets a target for training 100,000 teachers. Sensitive to Arab critics, the statement noted that "successful reform depends on the countries in the region and change should not and cannot be imposed from outside." But Mr. Chirac was also dismissive of Mr. Bush's initiative. "There is no ready-made formula for democracy readily transposable from one country to another. Democracy is not a method, it is a culture. For democracy to take root solidly and durably in the Arab world, it must be an Arab democracy before all else."
- Larry Elliott, David Teather

Doha (English language), June 10: Since Tuesday the [Greater Middle East Initiative] concept had been losing steam as the G-8 leadership - to whom Bush was looking for strong backing - increasingly questioned its wisdom and motives…European Commission chief Romano Prodi…warned that "the mother of all conflicts is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."…One G-8 diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity…told French news agency AFP that it was nothing more than a dishonest scheme to keep U.S. troops in the Middle East to protect U.S. access to Saudi Arabian oil. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two countries covered by the initiative but alarmed by its potential implications, declined invitations to the summit. Tunisia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Arab League, followed suit. Leaders of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Turkey and Yemen accepted Bush's invitation.

Lagos Daily Times (independent), June 11: The Group of Eight (G-8) industrialised nations' leaders ended their 2004 summit in Georgia, United States yesterday without the much-expected debt forgiveness for Africa. At the outset, the six African leaders that attended the summit were optimistic that their G-8 counterparts would come out with a favourable position on the issue of debt forgiveness and foreign investment among others.

Singapore The Straits Times (pro-government), June 11:

What was agreed on at the summit:

Middle East Reforms: The leaders adopted a U.S.- sponsored Broader Middle East and North Africa initiative to promote political, social and economic reforms. It called for G-8 members to encourage and assist homegrown liberalisation in the Islamic world through financial, vocational, educational and human rights programmes.

Global Trade Talks: The G-8 summit vowed to resolve, by the end of next month, differences blocking a free trade deal under the so-called Doha round of global negotiations. It pledged to "move expeditiously" to complete a framework accord on key issues to put the trade talks back on track.

Non-Proliferation: The G-8 expressed "serious concerns" about North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, chastised Iran and unveiled measures meant to halt the spread of unconventional arms. Steps included curbing the transfer of nuclear technology and enhancing the powers of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Airline Security: The leaders endorsed 28 measures to improve international airline security in the face of increased terrorist threats. They included boosting passenger screening and information exchanges, tightening the security of travel documents, enhancing intelligence-sharing and accelerating the destruction of shoulder-launched missiles.

Poverty: The G-8 leaders reached an agreement on a four-point plan to use free enterprise to promote development in the world's poor countries. The steps included measures to make it cheaper for migrant workers to send money home, improving the climate for businesses and investors, developing local financial markets and providing more small loans for people in developing countries.