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G-8 Setting: Calgary's Secluded Environment Makes an Impression - 2002-06-27

The G-8 summit is transforming itself, going back to a simpler time when prime ministers and presidents consulted informally in a secluded location. This year, the leaders of the world's seven largest industrialized nations and Russia are meeting in the Canadian Rocky Mountains at a resort nestled amidst the peaks. These were my first impressions of Kananaskis: the smell of pine, the sounds of water running over rocks, and the sight of a president and prime minister sitting alone in animated conversation over a couple glasses of Canadian beer.

It was immediately clear. We weren't in Genoa anymore.

Last year's summit turned an Italian port city into a fortress with the participants on one side of a security perimeter, and thousands of protesters on the other. Genoa was marked by the scent of tear gas, the sounds of angry crowds, and the sight of blood on the streets.

The Canadians decided it was time to change course and go back to the days when these annual economic summits were in their infancy. The host country picked a site about a 100 kilometers from the nearest city, a place where elk seem to outnumber people.

They said they did it largely for security. But the Canadians also wanted to give the eight world leaders a chance to spend time together informally away from the spotlight.

They could be seen consulting on terraces, or even holding what aides called an early morning "aerobic bilateral" in the resort's gym. That is where President Bush unexpectedly met up with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"I went down after a run and there was the Prime Minister working out, with an impressive regime, I might add," President Bush said.

At past summits, the heads of state and government, each with an entourage in the hundreds, usually stayed at different places. This time they are all under one roof, in a wooden lodge with a total occupancy of just 350.

The protesters are far away, and so, for the most part, is the press. White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer says the result is a summit with a different atmosphere and a different texture.

"You can walk down a hallway and leave the American sector where there is an American flag, and cross into the British area where there's a British flag, and travel from there just steps down a hallway into a French area where the French rooms are with a French flag," Ari Fleisher said. "And you hear all the different languages in the hallway. You have leaders literally bumping into each other, talking informally, which is what the G-8 always was intended to be."

The French are hosting next year's summit, and have said, perhaps in jest, that they might hold the meeting by conference call. France hosted the first of the annual economic summits back in 1975 in a country chateau, the kind of remote setting and informal atmosphere Canada has chosen to emulate in 2002.