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Last Updated: Friday, 11 June, 2004, 04:46 GMT 05:46 UK
G8 unity holds despite strains
By Jill McGivering
BBC correspondent at the G8 summit, Georgia

G8 leaders at Sea Island
A positive tone, but disagreements remained
The strains of the deep South, an exclusive Georgia location - what better setting for a new rapprochement between G8 leaders, after a year of disagreement on Iraq?

News of the passing of a new UN resolution set a positive tone as the summit began.

President Bush in his closing press conference gave a robust defence of the G8's agreement on Middle East reform.

"There was some concern when the initiative was first proposed," he said, "that this was America trying to make the world look like America. It's not going to happen.

"I fully understand that a free society in the Middle East is going to reflect the culture and traditions of the people in that country, not America."

'No excuse'

The dominance of Iraq and the Middle East pushed other issues to the sidelines.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo stressed the need for common prosperity
Jamie Drummond of the non-government group, Debt Aids Trade Africa, expressed the frustrations of those who want the G8 to focus on the developing world.

"Africa is the poorest region of the earth," he said.

"It is the most marginalised, most economically needy and we all recognise we should be doing far more. No doubt if there weren't a situation in Iraq, it would be getting more attention, more resources and more political will.

"But having said all of that, that's no excuse not to do all the things they should be doing."

More than lunch

On Thursday, African leaders finally did get their say - meeting G8 leaders for a working lunch.

Jacques Chirac with chefs
Compliments to the chef: Chirac liked the food
Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo did his best to stress the positive.

"Did we come just for lunch, all the way from Africa, and nothing else?" he asked reporters.

"Of course not!"

In fact as well as lunch, African leaders got progress on peacekeeping, with a G8 commitment to train another 75,000 peacekeepers.

Also a more concerted international approach to tackling HIV/Aids, and an extension of the process on debt relief for the world's poorest countries.

President Obasanjo made it clear it was a necessary investment.

"The issue is not the issue of one group begging the other, the issue is not the issue of one condescending to the other. The issue is of mutual interest, mutual security, common prosperity."

Hail to the chef

But despite everyone's efforts at harmony, there was continuing tension between the US and France.

As President George W Bush happily looked ahead to a possible expanded role for Nato in Iraq, French President Jacques Chirac said he didn't think it was Nato's purpose to intervene.

President Chirac also made it clear that France only supported the new UN resolution after US concessions.

But when the two leaders emerged from their bilateral talks on Thursday, they'd finally found common ground.

"I'd like to thank once again the president for his hospitality," he said through a translator.

"He was kind enough to mention French cuisine. I can tell you over the last few days, the cuisine here in America was certainly on a par with French cuisine and I ask the president to convey my thanks to the chef."

President Bush, never one to miss an opportunity, immediately chipped in: "He particularly liked the cheeseburger he had yesterday."

So the future, it seems, may be in hamburger diplomacy.




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