G-20 discusses how to help Mideast and North Africa

G-20, a group of financial leaders from 20 of the world's biggest economies, meets in Washington to discuss challenges facing the global economy. The G-20 talks are focusing on how to prevent imbalances in trade and government debt.

By , Associated Press

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    International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, center, walks to a meeting of the G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors, Friday, April 15, 2011, at the 2011 Spring Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Countries with the largest economies are pledging financial support for new governments in the Mideast and North Africa, historic changes that a U.S. official compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Major nations stood ready with international lending institutions to aid Egypt and Tunisia, the U.S. and France said in joint statement Thursday.

Treasury Undersecretary Lael Brainard, writing on Foreign Policy magazine's website, said the transformations could prove as successful in unlocking economic prosperity as the events in Germany after the wall fell in 1989.

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Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, in a statement summarizing the talks among the world's economic powers, that the group would offer a plan soon to support "inclusive and sustained growth, transparency and improved governance."

Brainard wrote that "across the Middle East and North Africa, unprecedented upheavals are creating historic opportunities to expand the circle of democratic societies."

She said the changes and efforts to provide greater economic growth for the region's young people would take a number of years, with many challenges ahead. "We must be prepared to work through the setbacks and scale up successes," she wrote.

The discussions on the Middle East occurred at the start of three days of finance talks designed to deal with various challenges facing the global economy. They range from soaring food and energy prices to tensions between the United States and China, the world's two largest economies, over currencies and trade.

The discussions Friday involved the Group of 20, which includes traditional economic powers such as the United States and European nations and major developing powers such as Brazil, China and India.

A week after the March 11 earthquake in Japan, the G-7 countries — the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada — intervened in currency markets to keep the Japanese yen from rising against the dollar. That would have delivered a big blow to Japan's fragile economy by depressing the country's exports.

Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda told Geithner during a meeting Friday that Tokyo appreciated Washington's support in the G-7 action, which he called "very significant and effective."

Geithner said it was "very important that we were able to come together as the G-7 in exceptional circumstances a few weeks ago to help Japan contain the risk that a sharp appreciation of the yen would damage the recovery."

The G-20 talks were scheduled to conclude Friday afternoon with a new conference and joint statement of goals.

The finance talks will wrap up on Saturday with meetings of the policy-setting panels of the 187-nation International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said a major goal will be to win support from the rich countries for more assistance to poor nations that are facing food crises. A 36 percent surge in food prices over the past year has pushed an additional 44 million people into poverty.

"We have to put food first and protect the poor and vulnerable, who spend most of their money on food," Zoellick told reporters Thursday.

The G-20 talks are focusing on making more progress on indicators that the group can use to gauge whether countries are pursuing the correct policies to prevent the growth of dangerous imbalances in trade and government debt.

The United States hopes the indicators can bring more pressure on China to allow its currency to rise in value against the dollar as a way to narrow the huge trade gap between China and the U.S.

Chinese officials do not want the rebalancing process to be used as a way to attack Beijing's currency policies, and it was unclear whether any progress will be made during the Washington talks.

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Associated Press writer Harry Dunphy contributed to this report.

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