SAINT PETERSBURG (AFP) – Leaders of the G8 group of major powers have turned their focus on salvaging stalled world trade talks after overcoming their differences to appeal for an end to the Middle East crisis.
The eight industrialised powerhouses invited their counterparts from five key emerging market economies — Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa — to join the third and final day of their annual summit here.
In a joint statement Sunday after intense closed-doors talks, the G8 club called for an end to the shelling of Israeli territory by militant groups and the return unharmed of three captured Israeli soldiers.
At the same time, they urged the Jewish state to halt its devastating twin military offensives in Lebanon and Gaza and to release detained Palestinian ministers and lawmakers.
“The most urgent priority is to create the conditions for a cessation of violence that will be sustainable,” the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States said in the statement.
The G8 leaders also offered “full support” for a UN special mission to the region, and proposed that the UN Security Council consider “an international security/monitoring presence” on the Israel-Lebanon border.
How that force may be put together, and whether it would be armed, was not specified.
The text of the accord did not name Iran and Syria as backers of the militant groups behind the shelling and abductions, as the United States had wanted, but Nicholas Burns, number three in the US State Department, said those nations were clearly implied.
“Those extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos and provoke a wider conflict,” the statement said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who assumes the G8 presidency next year, said the statement sent a “strong and unified” message to the Middle East and the rest of the world.
In a late-evening press conference, Putin indicated that Russia was working to secure the release of the captured soldiers.
“We are making efforts to release your soldiers through all channels. And we have reason to believe that our efforts are not in vain,” he said answering a question from an Israeli reporter at a news conference.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is to address the summit Monday before the gathering in the Baltic city of Saint Petersburg draws to a close.
Monday’s trade consultations come two weeks after ministers again failed to agree on how to reduce barriers to global commerce in a way that would enable the developing world to taste the fruits of free trade.
On Sunday, the G8 nations gave their negotiators one more month to reach a consensus on the scope of cuts in tariffs, subsidies and other barriers.
A European source said that if no consensus were reached by mid-August the so-called Doha Round of talks — launched in 2001 but which have foundered — could be indefinitely suspended.
The issue is crucial, because while the United States and Europe are under heavy pressure to reduce trade-distorting subsidies and import tariffs, they themselves are pressing emerging nations to make their markets more accessible to industrial goods and services.
Each of the parties routinely pledges to go further, but only on condition that others in the debate make concessions as well.
“We gave a mandate to our respective negotiators to come to an agreement on modalities within a month,” European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said here, admitting it was “an ambitious goal.”
The G8 countries also agreed on Sunday on ways to address concerns on energy security, promising to promote “open, transparent” energy markets and develop alternative energy sources, including nuclear power, to counter soaring oil prices and declining fossil fuel reserves.