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Bush Hopes G8 Meeting Will Endorse Middle East Democratic Reforms - 2004-06-03

Next week's annual summit of the world's major industrial nations and Russia, the Group of Eight or G8, takes place June 8-10 at Sea Island, Georgia in the United States. President Bush hopes the meeting will endorse a U.S. proposed action plan to promote democratic reform in the Mideast and North African region.

It is called the Broader Mideast Initiative and is intended to support political, economic and social reform in the region. The controversial plan has been under discussion since February and is likely to be further modified at the G8 summit.

To help fine tune the plan President Bush has invited several leaders of Arab and Islamic countries to come to the Group of Eight meeting. They include the leaders of Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Turkey and Afghanistan. On June 9, this group will hold discussions with the G8 leaders. The Group of Eight is comprised of the four major West European countries, the UK, France, Germany, Italy as well as Japan, the United States and Canada.

Steven Cook, a Mideast expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, says it is significant that the Mideast leaders are coming to the G8 summit.

"From the Arab side, participation sends the message that Arab countries will not be dictated to by external powers and that they own part of this initiative," he said. "As the Tunis declaration indicated last weekend [endorsing the call for regional reform] they are also interested in reform issues, but it is also important to inject some reality into the question of participation. The countries that are coming are either easy sells or they desperately want something from the United States."

He says Algeria, for example, wants increased security cooperation with the United States. Other Mideast countries, such as Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, were not interested in attending.

Charles Kupchan, a professor on international relations at Georgetown University, said that it won't be easy for the G8 to reach consensus on other Mideast issues, particularly the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said that the Germans and the French, who opposed the American led war in Iraq last year, continue to have strong doubts about U.S. policies in the region. However, says Mr. Kupchan, they are likely to support overall the Mideast initiative. "I think what will happen is that they will step away from and around the immediate crises in Iraq and in the Middle East peace process and focus on those areas where there is agreement, and that is the broader Mideast initiative," he said.

Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations said that if differences are hammered out at the G8 summit, a Mideast plan will be launched.

"There will be no standing secretariat or standing staff," he added. "The yearly meetings will include the finance, trade, and foreign ministers, but no ministers having to do with social, development or internal political development. And countries will be able to opt in [to the group] on a kind of name and shame basis."

The intention of the initiative is to enhance human rights in the Middle East through rapid economic growth and integration of the region in the global economy.