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G8: Bush Struggles to Regain Leadership at Summit

Analysis by Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON, Jun 4 2007 (IPS) - An ever-deteriorating situation in Iraq, a hostile Democratic Congress and a changing of the guard in some key allies may all combine to bring about a more cooperative, and perhaps more subdued, President George W. Bush at the summit of the Group of Eight most industrialised nations.

George and Laura Bush depart for G8 summit in Germany on Monday. Credit: White House photo by Joyce Boghosian

George and Laura Bush depart for G8 summit in Germany on Monday. Credit: White House photo by Joyce Boghosian

Sensing his relatively fragile position, President Bush has unveiled a series of initiatives and overtures to the heads of state of the eight countries that almost effectively rule the world. Analysts say that the measures are mostly designed to add some sheen to the United States’ lacklustre global standing.

In a major speech ahead of the Jun. 6-8 G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, Bush sought to double U.S. anti-AIDS funding to 30 billion dollars from fiscal years 2009 through 2013. He also urged the U.S. Congress to approve a hike in U.S. assistance to Africa to 8.67 billion dollars by 2010.

Bush, who has been largely consumed by the war in Iraq for most of his two-term presidency, announced he would even visit the impoverished African nations of Senegal, Mozambique, Zambia and Mali to “see the results” firsthand.

“Alleviating this suffering requires bold action from America, it requires America’s leadership, and it requires the action of developed nations as well. That’s the message I’m going to take with me to Europe next week when [his wife] Laura and I go to the G8,” he said.

Criticised repeatedly by activist groups for not doing enough to stop the human tragedy unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, Bush also unveiled a series of sanctions that target top lieutenants of the Sudanese regime, accused of organising attacks that have claimed at least 400,000 lives, displaced 2.5 million people and left more than 3.5 million men, women and children struggling to survive amid violence and starvation.

Bush sanctioned 31 additional companies owned and controlled by the Sudanese government, as well as two senior Sudanese government officials. He is expected to encourage U.S. allies at the meeting, including the European Union, to follow through with similar sanctions.

He also pledged to continue U.S. efforts to help resuscitate the World Trade Organisation Doha Round of trade negotiations, which seek to further expand market access in developing countries.

But the most controversial announcement so far has been his climate change plan.

The U.S. president, whose country is the world’s largest economy and the largest polluter, proposed a framework for developing a new international agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions that would replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which Washington has refused to ratify for fear that it could thwart economic development.

The plan would target 10 to 15 countries that consume the most energy and emit the largest quantities of greenhouse gases. Bush said he would urge other leaders to increase their own investments in research and development of alternative power sources to help reduce dependence on oil.

Those proposals will perhaps bolster his position when he joins the leaders of Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Italy, Britain and Russia at the G8 summit. After all, Bush is challenged here at home by Congressional leaders who have slammed his performance in eroding U.S. leadership on a number of multilateral issues.

He will be faced with the task of improving relations with France, which chilled under former President Jacques Chirac, especially over the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. The new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will have his first meeting with Bush during the summit.

It will also be the final summit for Bush’s number one friend in Europe, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who announced last month that he would resign effective Jun. 27. Blair will be replaced by the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.

The most senior member of the G8, Blair’s popularity plummeted in large part because of his support of the Iraq war and accusations that he had manipulated intelligence to make a case for the 2003 invasion.

Bush will also be visiting with Pope Benedict for the first time.

“Bush wants to have a very positive spin, start relations off on the right foot with (Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe and Sarkozy. The Bush administration has changed its tune somewhat on climate. I think that’s very clear,” said Julianne Smith, Europe Programme Director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “I think we have now a Congress controlled by the Democrats. That’s made a difference.”

“So the instinct is to move away from, again, the shadows of Iraq and try and craft some new action points for the transatlantic partners and try and keep the wheels turning on that,” added Smith.

Some analysts went as far as to suggest that the president’s renewed interest in Africa and the challenge he posed to other nations to follow suit on Darfur are, at least in part, for media consumption, but could indeed prompt positive responses from the Europeans.

“This is the president trying to articulate a position where he’s got a good legacy, and try and put that out front,” said former Undersecretary of Commerce Grant Aldonas. “So part of it is PR. But there is real substance here. This is something the president believes in. So I do think that there will have to be some response, simply because at least rhetorically he’s put the other players between the sword and the wall.”

Still, Bush’s initiatives have failed to placate civil society groups here.

The environmental organisation Friends of the Earth described his proposal on climate change as embarrassing to the United States “in front of the entire planet.”

The group is collecting signatures of apology to be presented at the German embassy Tuesday from U.S. citizens angry that the proposal would only take effect after he leaves office, and would be non-binding.

The World Wildlife Fund, another environmental group, released “Climate Scorecards” Monday that placed the United States last among the G8 countries in terms of action to halt global warming.

“The United States’ bottom ranking underscores a disconnect between President Bush’s announcement last week and ongoing U.S. attempts to block progress at G8 negotiations aimed at stopping dangerous climate change,” said the group.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling on fellow heads of government to reach a landmark deal at the G8 meet. This should include a commitment to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half before mid-century compared to 1990 levels.

Other issues to be discussed at the summit will be investment, innovation, relations with Russia and sustainability.

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