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G-8 Summit Begins in Evian Sunday - 2003-05-31


Leaders of the seven major industrialized countries and Russia, known as the Group of Eight, converge Sunday on the French alpine resort of Evian to discuss international security threats and the sorry state of the global economy. But the main focus of the meeting will be on mending ties strained by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which split the G-8 into two camps.

The leaders will arrive in a town that has been blanketed by security forces. Thousands of police are controlling all access to Evian, helicopters are flying overhead, and frogmen are patrolling the lake that bathes the scenic resort, known for its thermal water cures.

The anti-globalization protesters that usually gather for these G-8 meetings are on hand again, but French and Swiss police have set up a security cordon that will keep them well away from the summit site.

G-8 leaders normally use their annual summit to assess the state of the world economy and try to come up with a coordinated approach to boost global growth. But despite the faltering dollar, deflation in Japan and recession in Germany, their attention this year is expected to focus on putting the acrimonious dispute over the war in Iraq behind them.

President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac have already pledged to try to work together to overcome the divisive splits of the past. But the tension between Washington and Paris still lingers, and neither government seems willing to acknowledge the validity of the other's position on the war.

President Bush is cutting short his stay in Evian to engage in Middle East diplomacy, and that will probably upstage whatever is agreed to at the summit. But the Europeans have long demanded that the United States become more committed to working toward a two-state solution in the Middle East, so they will not be able to publicly fault him for leaving Evian early.

The main items on the security agenda at the summit are the fight against terrorism, the Middle East, the North Korean nuclear crisis and weapons proliferation in general. Diplomats say it will not be difficult for the leaders to come to some kind of agreement on all of them.

But both Mr. Bush and Mr. Chirac are seeking to focus attention on world social problems, as well. Mr. Bush will call on his colleagues to give more money to the fight against AIDS. Mr. Chirac will put the stress on African problems, such as debt relief and access to clean drinking water.

Mr. Chirac has invited leaders from several Third World countries to the summit to discuss development issues.