North Korea, Iran May Dominate Russia's G8 Summit
(CNSNews.com) - Russia, hosting the Group of Eight leaders' summit for the first time, wants that summit to focus on energy, education and infectious diseases, but North Korea and Iran look set to dominate the agenda in St. Petersburg this weekend. On both counts, Russia is at odds with its G8 partners.
Japan, which earlier indicated it wanted the summit to tackle North Korea over its nuclear weapons and the abduction of Japanese citizens, now plans to use the gathering to press for "a very strong message" condemning Pyongyang over last week's missile tests.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was quoted as telling reporters in Tokyo Tuesday that Japan would take a leading role at the summit in discussions on appropriately responding to the tests.
"We have to be persistent in explaining our point of view," he said. "I believe there needs to be measures from the world to prevent North Korea from causing further incidents."
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council decided to put off a vote on a Japanese resolution seeking sanctions against North Korea for firing seven missiles into the Sea of Japan on July 4-5.
The decision came after China and Russia, both veto-wielding permanent council members, refused to agree to the legally-binding resolution, and China proposed an alternative text (see related story).
Japan and others supporting its measure -- including remaining permanent members America, Britain and France -- agreed to delay further action pending a visit to North Korea by senior Chinese leaders.
The Chinese delegation began a six-day visit to Pyongyang on Tuesday. The visit's stated aim is to mark the 45th anniversary of a "treaty of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance" between the communist neighbors, but other Security Council members are hoping China will use the opportunity to put pressure on North Korea.
U.S. envoy to the U.N., John Bolton told reporters the delay in voting on Japan's resolution would not be "infinite."
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Tokyo and Washington had agreed to postpone the vote "for several days," and Koizumi said Tuesday he wanted the council to vote on the resolution "as soon as possible."
The Chinese delegation's visit to North Korea is due to end on Sunday. In the meantime, the G8 summit will have begun in Russia, and Japan will take advantage of the fact that China is not a G8 member to seek a unified stance. (China, along with Kazakhstan, South Africa, India, Mexico and Brazil, has been invited to take part in a "dialogue" with G8 leaders.)
Russia also opposes the Security Council resolution and sanctions, but Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso expressed the hope President Vladimir Putin would not want to be isolated by standing alone in support of North Korea.
The G8 comprises the U.S., Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia.
A National Security Council official told a White House background briefing last Thursday that the U.S. would look for "strong statements" on both North Korea and Iran.
"Exactly what the content is going to be is going to depend on what happens in the days preceding the summit," he said.
Iran: Decision awaited
Iran also is expected to feature far more strongly at the G8 than Russia would have liked.
As is the case with North Korea, Russia and China have resisted efforts by the Security Council to take stronger steps against Iran over uranium enrichment activities which the U.S. and its allies view as a front for attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
As an alternative to Security Council action, the council's five permanent members and Germany (known as the P5+1) early last month offered Iran a package of economic and diplomatic incentives in return for verifiably giving up uranium enrichment and processing activities.
But despite hopes that Iran would respond to the offer before the G8 meeting, it has not yet done so, saying instead that it would respond by late August.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Sunday warned the G8 nations not to take any decisions in St. Petersburg. Doing so may hurt the "current positive trend of negotiations," he said.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani is holding talks in Brussels Tuesday with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, but Iranian officials have already ruled out the possibility of that meeting ending with Iran giving a formal reply.
Washington is turning up the pressure for a response, with State Department spokesman Sean McCormack saying Monday Iran had had more than enough time to make a decision.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns has indicated that Wednesday -- when P5+1 foreign ministers meet in Paris ahead of the G8 summit -- constituted a deadline for Iran.
If Tehran failed to respond by then, he said, the U.S. and others would have to "consider some of the measures that have to do with action by the Security Council."
Action by the Security Council is precisely what Russia, and China, want to avoid.
Russia is a close ally of Tehran and has a large financial stake in its civilian nuclear program. China's energy interests include plans to buy $20 billion in liquefied natural gas from Iran over 30 years, and a multi-billion dollar contract to develop a major oilfield.
The country holding the rotating G8 presidency traditionally puts forward several key issues it wants to govern the agenda, and Putin has chosen energy security, education, and the eradication of infectious diseases such as HIV/Aids and avian flu.
Of the three, energy security is the issue most likely to get attention, in part because of the dispute over Iran.
Iran is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' second-largest oil producer and has huge natural gas reserves. In the standoff over its nuclear programs, Tehran has threatened to use its energy wealth as a weapon, and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last month that the U.S. and its allies would be unable to secure oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic channel through which a large proportion of the world's oil is shipped.
Uncertainty over Iran has been blamed for high oil prices. Oil reached a record high $75.78 last Friday, although it fell below $74 on Monday. Some analysts are predicting prices could reach $80.
G8 members are the world's seven largest economies and Russia, whose participation and eventual joining was pushed by President Clinton as a way of rewarding former President Boris Yeltsin's reforms.
Under Putin, Russia's place at the table has been called into question in some quarters, with critics saying Russia should be suspended for moving away from the type of democracy enjoyed in the other member states.
Russia's place appears secure, however, and this weekend it plays summit host for the first time.
The St. Petersburg summit will be the first for the new leaders of Germany and Canada, Angela Merkel and Stephen Harper, and marks a return for new Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who attended during an earlier term in 1996-1998.
It will also be the sixth and last for Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who plans to retire in September.
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