G8 Summit On Bush's Turf

President Bush conference
AP / CBS
President Bush, bolstered by the prospect of allied support for a new U.N. resolution on Iraq, hopes to use the annual summit of powerful countries to heal the rift with Europe over U.S. policies in the Middle East.

But the support on Iraq is coming only after Mr. Bush agrees to conditions on the continued presence of troops in that country. He also faces deep skepticism over an initiative he hopes the Group of Eight nations will endorse to promote democracy throughout the Middle East.

The president began his effort to mend fences with a trip to Europe over the weekend. French President Jacques Chirac, one of Mr. Bush's biggest foes on the Iraq war, predicted an agreement could be reached "very shortly" on a U.N. Security Council resolution outlining how Iraq's new interim government will operate and who will control U.S. military forces there.

Just as last year's summit in the Alpine resort of Evian, France, was heavily focused on Iraq, the get-together Tuesday to Thursday at an exclusive island resort off the Georgia coast faces an agenda dominated by the problems of the Middle East.

The summit is taking place under heavy security provided by more than 10,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officials, guarding the tiny barrier island by land, sea and air.

Concrete barriers, metal fencing and checkpoints were put into place around key buildings and routes.

Participants include the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.

Mr. Bush and other leaders will be staying in "cottages" that cost in the millions of dollars on a 5-mile-long island famed for its sandy beaches and massive oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.

The setting was not lost on demonstrators kept miles away in Brunswick, Ga., a working-class mainland city, where they hope to attract protesters "in the hundreds," not thousands, for their teach-ins and demonstrations against a globalized economy.

In 1999, anti-globalization demonstrators set fires in the streets of Seattle, and at the 2001 G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, police fatally shot one demonstrator and arrested 300 others.

The G-8 leaders are expected to vote to extend and expand a debt relief program for the world's poorest nations, due to expire at the end of this year. They also are likely to endorse a new peacekeeping force to deal with conflicts in such places as Africa.

Following the pattern of recent summits, Mr. Bush has invited the leaders of six African countries — Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda — to have lunch with the summit leaders on Thursday to review progress on a G-8 action plan to attack poverty, AIDS and famine on the continent.

In a more controversial meeting, the G-8 will meet over lunch Wednesday with the leaders of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Turkey, Yemen and a representative of the new Iraqi interim government to discuss Mr. Bush's proposal for a broader Middle East initiative.

However, a leaked draft of the proposal caused an uproar in Arab nations that perceived it as an arrogant America pushing its own ideas. Several Arab countries including Egypt and Saudi Arabia turned down Mr. Bush's invitation to attend the Sea Island summit. The New York Times reports Qatar, a U.S. ally, was not invited because its government funds Al Jazeera, the Arabic television network that has criticized the war in Iraq.

The administration insists that it is making progress in crafting a document that can win broad support among the summit countries.

Critics say whatever plan emerges from the summit will face huge hurdles winning acceptance in an Arab world that deeply distrusts U.S. intentions given Mr. Bush's support for Israel's moves to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The president's gains on the U.N. resolution represented a badly needed victory after weeks of a deteriorating security situation in Iraq and world condemnation of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

Bush allies in the Iraq war — British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi — are facing rising pressure at home to pull their troops out of Iraq.

While the global economy is finally pulling out of the U.S.-led recession of 2001, financial markets remain extremely jittery over fears of new terrorist attacks and possible disruptions of oil supplies.

Because of those concerns, the G-8 leaders are certain to project a united front, even if lingering differences remain.

"The G-8 will want to demonstrate a high degree of unity in the face of terrorist threats," said Robert Hormats, head of Goldman Sachs International in New York. "The Europeans know that if the United States suffers a defeat or humiliation in Iraq, it will strengthen radical Islam. And that is the last thing they want to do."

The weekend trip to Europe and the G-8 summit, the first in the United States since Denver in 1997, are part of a month of high-profile diplomacy for Mr. Bush, who will also attend summits later in June with the European Union in Ireland and NATO countries in Turkey.

These sessions will give Mr. Bush the opportunity to demonstrate his ability to work with allies, something that Democratic challenger John Kerry contends has fallen to a low point during the first years of his presidency. Kerry accuses Mr. Bush of "arrogance and ineptness" and says as president, he would "clear the air" with other countries.