Nuclear safety and terrorism top discussion as summit opens
The economic summit's opening pageantry yesterday was overshadowed by warnings about radioactive rainfall here and by an unsuccessful terrorist missile attack on the welcoming ceremonies. The unplanned events surrounding the festivities spotlight two political topics -- terrorism and nuclear safety -- expected to play a major role at the meeting. The leaders of the seven largest industrialized democracies are gathered here for their 12th annual meeting.
[Story on missile attack, Page 2]
At a nearly three-hour-long dinner Sunday evening, the summit leaders discussed nuclear safety and terrorism, and their personal representatives were directed to spend the night drafting statements on the two subjects -- for presentation today if possible.
The nuclear safety statement is expected to outline recommendations for improved methods of dealing with and preventing accidents. The statement on terrorism is expected to stress a need for strong cooperative action. The allies are in general agreement on the proper conduct regarding nuclear accidents, but bilateral meetings at the start of the summit showed them still divided over specific means of coping with terrorism.
And despite relatively bright economic conditions in most summit countries, the participants also remain at odds on a number of key economic topics, including the proper value of the dollar, the appropriate rate of economic growth in Europe and Japan, and the proper degree of freedom in agricultural trade.
Final summit communiqu'es traditionally paper over such differences. This year's document is likely to be no exception. In a draft copy of the communiqu'e leaked to a Japanese wire service, the summiteers agree that they should reduce budget deficits and lower interest rates as part of an overall economic restructuring designed to sustain global growth.
The draft also calls for coordination of economic policies regarding trade imbalances and foreign-exchange rates.
To achieve that coordination, Treasury Secretary James Baker III has been sounding out summit participants on a United States plan for setting up a global system for monitoring the monetary and economic policies of industrial nations. The aim is to prevent wild exchange-rate fluctuations and major trade imbalances.
These discussions started as the first evidence of the Soviet nuclear disaster appeared in Japan. The Japanese government warned early Sunday morning that the gentle rain that had been falling here for two days was contaminated by radiation apparently coming from the Soviet nuclear mishap at Chernobyl.
Although the radiation levels detected in Japan were not deemed threatening to human health, the government's warning not to drink rain water nevertheless highlighted the subject on which the allies perhaps are in closest agreement. All of them feel the Soviets should have given faster and more complete information about the Chernobyl diaster.
``The way they've handled it has been an outrage,'' said Donald Regan, White House chief of staff, Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.
The challenge of terrorism was underscored by the fact that Japanese ultraleftists were able to launch five rockets in an attempt to disrupt welcoming ceremonies at the Akasaka Palace, Japan's official guest house modeled on Versailles. The attack and the human wave of security police mobilized to prevent such an incident spotlight the problem of terrorism, an issue on which the summit participants have significant disagreements.
While the seven nations in attendance (the US, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, West Germany, and Japan) oppose terrorism, they are divided on the best means of dealing with it. For example, President Reagan received an unenthusiastic response to suggestions that the allies stop purchasing oil from Libya and turn to other suppliers.
Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi told reporters: ``If we don't buy the oil from Libya directly, we will probably buy the same oil on the spot market'' at a higher price. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl reportedly was just as unenthusiastic about Mr. Reagan's suggestion.
Perhaps the most visible economic dispute is one involving the host nation. Japan seeks joint, concerted currency-market intervention to halt the rise in the yen's value. In the last seven months the yen has risen nearly 40 percent in value against the dollar. That is causing severe problems for the Japanese economy, which is based on exporting. And it has created major political difficulties for Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who seeks to extend his term in office.
In bilateral meetings Saturday, US officials resisted the Japanese call for intervention, arguing that the yen's rise against the dollar will help reduce Japan's $50 billion trade surplus with the US. Treasury Secretary Baker has called the imbalance ``politically unsustainable.'' Baker issued a blunt warning Saturday on the issue of growth. The US has been urging both Japan and West Germany to take steps to stimulate their economies, a move which would tend to stimulate US exports.
``If there is no movement with respect to economic fundamentals -- that is, increased growth -- the only other way to deal with it, perhaps, would be a recession in the United States, which, of course, is unacceptable to everybody,'' said Baker. Correspondent Daniel Sneider contributed to this story.