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Clinton Meets the Group of Seven


The rationale for the Group of Seven annual summit does not apply to today's meeting in Naples. The economies of Western )) Europe, North America and Japan are moderately upbeat after years of stagnation. The heads of seven governments could more likely upset this fragile optimism than invigorate it.

For this reason, President Clinton was careful to let various constituencies know that no help is expected for a defense of the dollar, and no breakthrough in open markets expected with Japan. There should be no market or currency jitters when these do not materialize. Expectations are so low that agreement on almost anything will seem to exceed them. The summit may then be pronounced a distinct success.

German lack of sympathy for the dollar is only one reason for low expectations. Looming larger is the implausibility of the Japanese delegation -- an obscure leftist prime minister fronting a rightist regime that is greeted with disbelief by the Japanese people. While Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama appears on best behavior, he is too weak at home to open Japanese markets to foreign competition just because Mr. Clinton demands it.

In fact, it is the personalities of the new boys in the club that heightens any interest in this G-7 summit. None may be around long. Mr. Murayama is one. Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate who leads an unlikely coalition of rightists in Italy, is another. Each a little larger than life, each expected to burn out and be gone. Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the tough but inarticulate Liberal from Quebec, is another newcomer, but he has staying power.

This political sub-text of the Group of Seven really claims the Naples meeting. It is partly about whether Bill Clinton can exercise the world leadership that the American president should, overcoming doubts raised by his inconsistencies in foreign policy. Mr. Clinton has brought a proposal to the table, to pick up from the seven-year Uruguay Round negotiation on trade with a new GATT round on the non-tariff barriers that concern the developed world: copyright protection in new technology; national impediments to financial services; rules for biotechnology and telecommuncations.

Besides Mr. Clinton's new agenda, which only France resists, tomorrow's meeting brings the dominant non-member, President Boris Yeltsin of Russia, to the table. Economically, he doesn't belong. China and South Korea have bigger and expanding economies. Politically, the integration of Russia and its former satellites into the community of nations, including economic integration, dominates the problems for which the Group of Seven was created, challenges the ingenuity of U.S. leadership and offers the prospect of success or failure.

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