G-8 warns Iran, N. Korea to end nuclear projects

Sun Foreign Staff

EVIAN, France -- The leaders of the world's largest industrial democracies targeted North Korea and Iran yesterday with a message -- and an implicit warning -- dismantle programs that could be used to produce nuclear weapons, or face measures that would end the programs for them.

On the second day of the Group of Eight summit in the French Alps, the message was blunt and its targets precise. The eight leaders, with their disagreements over the war in Iraq festering, found common ground in a statement that called global terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction "the pre-eminent threat to international security."

"We strongly urge North Korea to visibly, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle any nuclear weapons programs," the leaders said in a draft statement expected to be formally approved today. "We will not ignore the proliferation implications of Iran's advanced nuclear program," it added, urging the government in Tehran to comply with a global nonproliferation treaty and accept more intrusive United Nations inspections.

Released just before President Bush's departure for Egypt to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, the statement said the leaders agreed to guard against development of the weapons by insisting on arms inspections, export controls "and, if necessary, other measures in accordance with international law," language that is commonly used by diplomats to project a threat of force.

The United States has said it takes seriously claims by North Korea that it has nuclear bombs, though their existence could not be verified. The United States has been pressuring Russia to halt construction of a nuclear plant in Iran, contending that it could lead to the production of nuclear weapons. Iran has acknowledged that it has a far more extensive nuclear research program than previously declared, but it denies seeking nuclear weapons. Russia has refused to halt the program but has said it would work to ensure that Iran does not produce weapons.

In recent weeks, Tehran has been a target of some members of the Bush administration, which has accused the government of backing international terrorism and interfering in efforts to rebuild Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made similar allegations.

Little talk on Iraq

In a day devoted to global security and discussions about the world economy, noticeably missing from the statement from the leaders was any mention of Iraq. The Group of Eight is made up of the United States, Great Britain, Japan and Italy, which supported the war, and France, Germany, Russia and Canada, which opposed it. The summit was the first meeting of the leaders since the United States and Britain, with help from Australia, toppled the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Iraq was discussed, though, and Bush and French President Jacques Chirac, bitterly divided over the war, said they were prepared to move beyond their dispute. The two met for 25 minutes on a hotel patio that overlooks Lake Geneva.

"We can have disagreements, but that doesn't mean we have to be disagreeable to each other," Bush told reporters as the two leaders sat on the patio. They appeared more relaxed than on Sunday, when Chirac welcomed Bush to the summit with a strained smile and a brief handshake before quickly escorting him to the other leaders.

Bush said he respected Chirac's knowledge of the Middle East and was seeking his advice before heading to the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday for talks with Arab leaders, which are to be followed by a trip to the Jordanian port city of Aqaba for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Chirac's spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna, told reporters that the presidents covered the Middle East in general and Iraq specifically, though they sought in their private discussions to ensure "that French-U.S. ties are not a prisoner to the past."

"The question now is to see how peace can succeed in Iraq," she said.

That question went unanswered at the summit. While the U.N. Security Council has passed a resolution giving responsibility for the rebuilding of Iraq primarily to the United States and Britain, none of the G-8 nations made offers in Evian to support the reconstruction financially. The United States is planning to hold a pledging conference among rich nations later this year.

In a conciliatory gesture, Chirac offered to send special forces to Afghanistan, joining U.S. troops and regular French forces in the country.

Tighter monitoring

In another area of security concerns, the leaders agreed to tighten monitoring of sites containing radioactive materials and to ban exports, except to countries that have effective controls.

The G-8 urged nations to do more to ensure terrorists could not obtain shoulder-launched anti-aircraft weapons, which are manufactured in many member countries. Before the war with Iraq, Britain's airports were guarded by tanks and thousands of troops after threats that a terrorist would try to shoot down a civilian aircraft.

The leaders also agreed to a "Counter-Terrorism Action Group," which would help advise and provide funds to countries that need help combating terrorism.

Troubled economies

The G-8 leaders also addressed their faltering economies, though they offered only vague expressions of confidence that they would improve. Germany and France have unemployment rates of about 10 percent, and both have exceeded debt limits they agreed to as part of the European Union.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder won a key vote on reform before arriving at the summit, but France's attempts to decrease the percentage of its budget that it devotes to public workers have met stiff resistance. Rail workers went on strike last night -- for the third time this spring -- over a plan to make public employees work longer before retiring.

Blair said economic reforms by European countries such as France and Germany were vital for a rebound in the European economy.

"There is a general recognition that if we don't change and reform our economies quickly, we are not going to be able to survive with the same living standards in the modern world," Blair said.

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