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G-7 Finance Ministers Meet in Paris

Finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations, plus Russia, meet in Paris Saturday in an atmosphere overshadowed by war jitters and economic sluggishness.

Slow economic growth in Asia and Europe, a continued slide in the stock market, and uncertainty over a possible war on Iraq will be facing finance ministers from the G-7 nations and Russia when they meet in Paris Saturday.

The meeting is in preparation for a June summit of the group in the French city of Evian. How to assist African countries is also expected to be a central theme during the June discussions by the eight heads of state.

The finance ministers were scheduled to hold dinner talks in Paris Friday, before formally opening their meeting Saturday. The occasion marks an international debut for the new U.S. treasury secretary, John Snow.

Mr. Snow is expected to raise concerns about sluggish growth in Japan and European Union countries. That includes France, where new statistics reported the French economy grew only 1.2 percent last year.

Mr. Snow is also expected to defend a controversial tax cut the Bush administration has proposed. He argues the cuts will not only stimulate the U.S. economy, but provide spillover benefits elsewhere in the world. The U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, recently suggested further tax cuts were not needed to jump-start the U.S. economy.

U.S. officials say the possibility of war on Iraq, and the effect a war would have on the global economy, will likely be discussed during the Paris meeting. Economists are concerned about a jump in oil prices, if war takes place. Iraq has one of the world's largest oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia.

In recent years, a number of oil companies, particularly French and Russian firms, have cobbled together business deals with the government of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. But they remain largely paper agreements, bringing little tangible benefits. Company executives are worried they may lose the deals altogether, if there is a war on Baghdad.