In two weeks President Bush will host the annual summit of eight major countries in the southern U.S. state of Georgia. VOA's Barry Wood previews the meeting of the leaders from the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.
It will be the 30th in a series of what were originally economic meetings that began in 1975. Italy and Canada were not at the first summit, but were added early on. Russia is the newest member of what is now the Group of Eight.
Robert Fauver, a summit planner for former President Clinton, says the format has not changed much through the years as the meetings rotate among the member countries. However, he says this meeting, which as usual begins with an informal dinner, is likely to be different in substance. ?I think there is a chance that the substantive portion of this year's summit will be focused on non-economic matters than historically has been the case,? he said.
Robert Kirton, a University of Toronto professor who runs the G8 Research Center, says Americans have identified four major themes for the summit in Sea Island, Georgia. ?The Greater Middle East Initiative, of course; a transportation security initiative in the war against terrorism called the safe and facilitated transport initiative, safety, as the acronym is pronounced, further work on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and then private sector development, primarily in Africa,? Mr. Kirton said.
President Bush wants the meeting to showcase the U.S.-led drive to promote democracy in the Middle East and Islamic world. He has invited several regional leaders, including those from Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain and Afghanistan, to participate in the summit. Others, like the Egyptian president, have asked not to be invited.
Canadian John Kirton of the G8 Research Center says Mr. Bush is taking a chance in highlighting the Middle East at a time when U.S. policies there are unpopular in several summit countries.
?The president is going for the larger package by moving for peace between Arab and Israeli and above all bringing democracy into those Arab and Muslim countries in the greater Middle East as a whole,? he added. ?So he's really going for broke.?
Robert Fauver believes the summit process needs to be streamlined. He says too often recent meetings have become cumbersome with lengthy statements of purpose that are quickly forgotten. Some leaders, he said, think it would be better to meet every other year.
?I think over the last five or six years some considerable thought has been given to the value to continuing the process on an annual basis,? Mr. Fauver said. ?The problem is no host wants to give up the opportunity to host the event.?
Next year's meeting will be held in Britain. In 2006 Russia, for the first time, will host a G8 summit.