The Christian Science Monitor's Ron Scherer just returned to New York from covering the Group of 8 summit meeting held at Sea Island, Georgia.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is reported as saying that at the meeting he sensed "a remarkable change in the American foreign policy." Did the US and Europe grow closer or drift further apart on the dividing issue of Iraq?
First, I think you have to view this meeting in context. Last year, when the G-8 met in Evian, President Bush and Chancellor Schroeder barely talked to each other because the Europeans were so unhappy over the US invasion of Iraq. By way of contrast, this year the US negotiated with the Europeans over the wording of the UN resolution. This receptivity by the US set the tone going into the meetings. So, even though they didn't agree on the issue of NATO sending in troops to Iraq, there was a lot of positive give-and-take. The Europeans wanted to show that they appreciated the Bush administration's willingness to negotiate. The Bush camp is pleased to have the Europeans finally sign on to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The discussions over the use of NATO troops are likely to continue at the end of the month in Turkey. There may be some "training" role for NATO troops. This was an issue over which French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac was more ambivalent.
Iraq seemed to dominate discussions, but what other issues were addressed?
The media may have overplayed the disagreement over Iraq. John Kirton, a University of Toronto professor who follows the G-8, believes the meetings had substantial results. For example, Bush got them to talk more about his "Greater Middle East Initiative" to promote democracy in the region. This is a proposal initially made by Bush's father. Senior US officials were quick to point out that even though the press had declared the concept dead, it was alive and well and under discussion. Japan, for example, committed $10 million towards job training in the Middle East.
The G8 also spent a fair amount of time discussing Africa. This included a lunch on the final day with the leaders from Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. The G-8 extended its debt relief plan for another two years - although debt relief organizations were disappointed all poor nation's debts were not cancelled. They also discussed nuclear nonproliferation, terrorism, the world economy and health issues.
The leaders wrapped up the meeting with a show of unity, which is important, but what actual decisions were made at the summit?
Actually, there were a lot of "action" items addressed at the Summit. To further the Greater Middle East Initiative, the G-8 made a commitment of about $100 million. This will go towards such things as training teachers, women's education and job training.
Europeans committed $75 million toward the goal of raising $200 million to end polio worldwide.
Again, on global health, the US committed $15 million to a global initiative to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. German Chancellor Schroeder indicated the G-8 would raise 300 million euros to help fund the AIDS fight.
And, the G-8 agreed to a one-year moratorium on the sale of critical nuclear equipment. This will give it time to try to put into place plans to better control such sales.
"It was a summit of substantial achievement across a broad array of issues," says Mr. Kirton. "But we still don't know if it was a summit of historical significance until we see if the Middle East initiative is back on the table next year at Tony Blair's [turn to host the] G-8 at Gleneagles [in Scotland]. And, if they invite the Middle East leaders back and spend more time with them than the hour or so they had at this meeting."