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Blair Acknowledges Much Work to Do Before G-8 Summit


Back from his meeting with President Bush at the White House, British leader Tony Blair said in parliament Wednesday that, while progress was made, more work needs to be done on garnering support for his African poverty initiative. He also says more work is needed to devise an international plan of combating climate change if next month's summit in Scotland is to be successful.

George Bush, Tony Blair at White House news conference Tuesday
In Washington Tuesday, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair moved closer to a shared position on canceling the debt of Africa's poorest countries.

On increasing aid to Africa, the U.S. promised $674 million more in targeted famine relief. That figure however is considerably lower than what would be required if Mr. Blair's goal of doubling international aid to the continent over the next five years is to be met.

On the third key part of Britain's African plan, dismantling restrictive trade barriers, Mr. Blair said in the House of Commons that more intensive discussions will be required.

"We raise all these issues to do not just with American subsidies for agriculture but also European subsidies as well," he said. "Now, the hope that I have is that we can at least agree certain principles, obviously this has to be negotiated in the WTO [World Trade Organization], that is the proper place for the negotiation, but I hope that at the G-8 [Group of Eight leading industrialized nations plus Russia] summit we are able at the very least to negotiate certain principles that give a clear sense of direction to the people that will then take on the negotiation at the G-8."

On the second important issue at the July summit in Scotland, climate change, the prime minister underlined that while the U.S. held a different view on tackling the problem, that did not mean that progress could not be made at the Gleneagles gathering.

"We have begun a discussion that I hope, as I just said a moment or two ago, will end up with a plan for action at the G-8 summit," he said. "Look, certain things are very obvious. The United States administration is not suddenly going to change its position and sign up to Kyoto. On the other hand, though it is correct that they come at this issue as much from the point of view of energy security and supply as much as climate change, there is an action plan that I believe we can get agreement to at the G-8 which will include specific measures that help us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Mr. Blair urged his fellow politicians to wait and see what can be agreed to in the coming weeks on climate change. Mr. Blair added, without the U.S. involved in the dialogue on the issue, no real progress could be made.

On a pressing matter closer to home, the prime minister was asked about his decision to postpone the British referendum on the European constitution, now that it had been rejected by the voters in both France and the Netherlands.

"I believe that the constitution represents a perfectly sensible way forward for Europe however, two countries have now said no," he said. "That means it cannot proceed. Until that position is clarified or changed, the constitution cannot proceed therefore, therefore, at the present time we are not proceeding with our referendum.,"

Mr. Blair will join his EU counterparts at a key meeting in Brussels next week to discuss collectively just where the constitution process should now go.

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