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G-8 summit ends with pledge of unity

World leaders tried to put their past differences behind them

(Keystone)

The world's most powerful politicians wrapped up the G-8 summit in the French resort of Evian on Tuesday with a pledge to work together to rebuild Iraq.

But Swiss political observers are sceptical that the meeting made much progress in repairing the bitter divisions between the United States and Europe over the war.

"Their show of unity was as genuine as you can get these days... and there was some real cooperation on certain issues," said Jürg Martin Gabriel, a political analyst at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology.

"But this does not mean that American and European divisions over Iraq are now healed and there are certainly areas where the US is going to go forward again in a unilateral fashion," he told swissinfo.

Gabriel also doubts the sincerity of President Bush's statement during the summit that Washington supports a strong US currency.

"Why should Bush have an interest in a strong dollar... If it's too strong, it's going to hurt American exports," said Gabriel. "What the US needs is a weak dollar so they can boost their economy, get the exports going and get the tourists in."

Healing wounds

During their three-day summit, the heads of state sought to put behind them divisions that opened earlier this year, when half of the G-8's members opposed Bush's decision to wage war in Iraq without United Nations approval.

In a closing statement delivered by the French president and G-8 host, Jacques Chirac, they declared that "the time has now come to build peace and reconstruct Iraq".

"Our shared objective is a fully sovereign, stable and democratic Iraq," said the leaders of the world's seven most-industrialised nations and Russia.

On Sunday, the Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, confirmed that frosty relations between Chirac and Bush had visibly thawed during the summit.

"When elephants fight, the whole forest trembles," said Couchepin, who was invited to take part in the first day of the talks.

"But at the end of the day the atmosphere was quite good," he told swissinfo.

Gabriel disagrees, however, that that the show of unity between Bush and Chirac means US-French relations have recovered.

"There are any number of issues in Iraq that will reveal the same cleavages again," he said.

"If there are domestic problems in Iraq, I'm sure the French and Germans will not have the same reaction as the Americans do to these developments... and it will be the same when it comes to finding, or not finding, weapons of mass destruction."

Economic recovery

In their final statement, the world leaders also voiced their confidence in global economic growth and recovery.

But although they stressed the need for structural reforms and greater flexibility in the rich nations' economies, they did not mention currency instability in their final statement.

"Stability in currencies is vital for sound economic growth," said Stefan Eitenmüller of the Swiss economic forecaster, BAK Basel Economics.

"But the situation being what it is, I think it was wise not to say anything... because the markets are very nervous and they're looking for signs, which would probably raise volatility in the exchange rates rather than stabilising them," he told swissinfo.

During the summit, Bush expressed support for a strong US currency. But he implied that Washington had no plans to support the dollar, saying that the foreign exchange markets should determine its value.

According to Eitenmüller, it's unlikely that the United States really wants to see a gain in the greenback.

"The weaker dollar right now is more of a boost to the American economy than a drag," he told swissinfo. "It will not hurt the US as long as its fall continues to be as gradual as it has been and it doesn't keep on going much further."

Nuclear weapons

The Group of Eight leaders also agreed on the need to combat the threat of nuclear weapons, putting both North Korea and Iran on-notice to curtail their nuclear programmes.

Their final statement said weapons of mass destruction and terrorism were "the pre-eminent threat to international security".

They also called on the leaders of North Korea and Iran to accept intrusive inspections and renounce atomic weapons.

But despite their unified front, Gabriel believes the weapons issue will continue to be a point of contention between the world leaders.

"They will disagree on details, strategy and tactics over the issue of nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran issue," he said.

Developing nations

During this year's summit, Chirac made a special effort to invite the leaders of emerging nations to the talks, including influential members of the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

Officials from 11 developing nations, along with the Swiss president, took part in outreach discussions on Sunday, which focused on a wide range of topics, from the fight against Aids to debt relief.

At the end of the meeting, Chirac challenged Bush to do the same at next year's G-8 in the US, in order to keep the spotlight on development issues.

But observers and development campaigners criticised the imitative, saying that the talks had resulted in very little.

"This was merely window dressing," said Gabriel. "The issue of debt relief, for example, is very complicated and they're not going to solve it by sitting down for one summit meeting on the shores of Lake Geneva."

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

This year's G-8 summit has wrapped up in the French alpine resort of Evian.

Leaders pledged unity in rebuilding Iraq and fighting the threat of nuclear weapons.

But Swiss political observers are sceptical that the meeting made much progress in repairing the bitter divisions between the United States and Europe over the war.

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