The Group of Eight summit is under way in France, with heads of the world's leading economies discussing global issues, including the uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.
U.S. President Barack Obama is using the gathering to reinforce his call for international assistance to help countries in that region adopt political and economic reforms.
One of the president's economic advisers, David Lipton, told reporters Thursday the U.S. considers discussions on the Middle East and North Africa to be "among the most important things" to be done at the summit.
He said G8 leaders will begin the talks at dinner Thursday and meet with the prime ministers of Egypt and Tunisia and the head of the Arab League on Friday morning. He said the G8 leaders will have a chance to discuss with the three regional representatives their plans and aspirations for change, and ways in which the international community can help.
Obama outlined ways the U.S. will provide economic support to Egypt, Tunisia and other nations transitioning to democracy in a key policy speech last week. On Wednesday, the European Union said it will increase its aid to 16 countries in the Middle East, North Africa and the former Soviet Union, and that the aid will be linked to their progress toward democracy.
Other topics of discussion at this week's G8 gathering in the French resort town of Deauville include Japan's nuclear crisis and the world economy.
President Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Thursday on the sidelines of the summit. Obama said the two countries agreed to work on the contentious issue of U.S. plans to build a missile defense shield in Central and Eastern Europe. He said they committed to working together to find an approach that is "consistent with the security needs of both countries."
Speaking to reporters alongside Obama, Medvedev said the missile defense issue would be solved by future politicians, but that he and Obama could lay the foundation now.
The two leaders also discussed Russia's bid to enter the World Trade Organization. President Obama said Russia's entry would be good for the economy and expressed confidence it could be done.
The Russian president announced with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, an agreement for France to sell four warships to Russia. The leaders told reporters at the G8 summit that the deal would be signed within two weeks. Under the agreement, two of the Mistral-class helicopter carriers will be built in France and the other two in Russia.
Sarkozy is chairing the G8 gathering. It is the first major world meeting since former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned after being charged with trying to rape a hotel maid in New York City. It is unclear who will replace him.
President Obama came to France after a state visit to Britain, where he met with Prime Minister David Cameron. The two leaders reaffirmed their stance on Libya, saying allied military operations there will continue until leader Moammar Gadhafi stops attacking civilians and gives up power.
At a joint news conference Wednesday in London, President Obama said there will be no letup in the pressure on Gadhafi. He later told the British parliament that the U.S., Britain and their allies "stopped a massacre in Libya" and will not relent until what he called "the shadow of tyranny" is lifted.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.