President Bush doesn't talk about the "axis of evil" anymore, though its members, Iran, Iraq and North Korea, remain a preoccupation of the administration, and pose significant concern for the Group of Eight nations meeting tomorrow in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Let's start with Iran, which this week refused to commit to a package of incentives to give up its nuclear ambitions - a proposal significant for its offer to assist Tehran with a civilian nuclear program and the Bush administration's agreement to join any talks about it. At the same time, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated with his usual flourish his country's insistence that it will not relent on its nuclear rights. The matter is moving toward U.N. action, with Russia and China joining their voices in a tougher stand against Tehran. Theirs is welcome and much-needed support if the U.S. and its allies have a shot at securing a U.N. sanctions resolution against Iran.
Mr. Bush should use his time at the G-8 summit to shore up consensus on taking a hard line with Iran to ensure an equitable and safe resolution to the nuclear standoff.
The North Koreans represent as difficult a problem. They remain indifferent to international outrage over their recent missile launch. China has taken the lead on responding to North Korea's latest stunt, but Pyongyang has balked at returning to six-party talks. China's president, Hu Jintao, who is attending the G-8 meeting as an observer, has opposed a proposal by Japan to impose U.N. sanctions against North Korea. But Beijing has offered no credible alternative to reining in its impudent neighbor. The summit provides an opportunity for Mr. Bush to meet face to face with Mr. Hu over North Korea's brazen move.
As for Iraq, the unrelenting sectarian violence underscores the futility of solving this crisis militarily. And yet top U.S. commanders in Iraq expect to need more American troops in Baghdad to keep the killings from escalating even more. Add to that the lukewarm response given to Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki's proposed national reconciliation program and Iraq seems incapable of emerging from this sinkhole of violence.
That may be a topic Mr. Bush would rather avoid in St. Petersburg - but his G-8 colleagues would be doing him a favor if they could impress upon him the urgent need to change course before Iraq disintegrates.