Bush-Chirac meet as world leaders focus on economy, weapons
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EVIAN, France (AFP) - Presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac took centre stage at the G8
summit with a cordial tete-a-tete seen as a test of US-French ties after the Iraq (news - web sites) feud, while world leaders turned their attention to the global weapons threat and economic woes.
Bush, infuriated by Chirac's opposition to the war, told the French leader Monday in their first meeting in six months that the Iraq episode had been "difficult" but that they should now focus on the future.
"There is no question where Jacques Chirac stood and I made it clear where I stood. That's why I can say we've got good relations, because we are able to be very honest with each other," the US leader said.
The global fight against terror, arms proliferation and regional conflicts in Iraq, the Middle East and North Korea (news - web sites) also topped a full agenda for the second day of the Group of Eight summit in the French spa resort of Evian.
Bush, leaving the G8
summit early for his first foray into the troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, said he was confident of making "some progress" in the Middle East but acknowledged his mission would be difficult.
But during his tour that included Russia and Poland, Bush delivered a blunt message behind the smiles -- any rapprochement with Europe following the diplomatic meltdown over Iraq must be on his own terms.
While saying this weekend that he wanted Europe and the United States to bury the hatchet over Iraq, Bush has also made it clear it was time for everyone "to step up to the shared duties of free nations."
After a day devoted to discussions with leaders from emerging and developing states, focusing on AIDS (news - web sites) and boosting aid to the poor, the G8
on Monday sat down for talks on the global economy and exchange rates.
Bush told his G8
partners that the United States would continue to pursue a strong dollar policy, a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said, while France reported that the leaders had a "consensus approach" on exchange rates.
The dollar's drop has caused deep concern in the euro zone and Japan, where the corresponding appreciation of the single European currency -- which hit an all-time high last week -- and the yen is seen as a threat to exports and to the overall momentum of economic growth.
leaders also delivered a blunt warning to North Korea and Iran -- members of Bush's "axis of evil" -- about their nuclear programmes in a final summit statement on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
But efforts by the G8
partners to repair relationships badly damaged over Iraq -- especially ties between the United States and France -- remained the overriding theme of the summit.
Controversy is still raging over the failure to find evidence that Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s regime had weapons of mass destruction, the key justification for the US-led invasion of Iraq.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites), who held breakfast talks with his top ally Bush, insisted that Iraq had illegal weapons and told critics to be patient while the hunt for the arms continued.
"I stand absolutely, 100 percent behind the evidence, based on intelligence that we presented to people," a visibly angry Blair said, urging "patience" as the hunt for weapons continued.
A boatride away across Lake Geneva, Switzerland was facing a clean-up operation after a night of clashes between riot police and anti-globalisation protestors seeking to disrupt the G8
In Geneva, police used tear gas to disperse gangs who went on the rampage through the wealthy city, smashing shop windows, looting luxury stores and wrecking a petrol station, after similar scenes in Lausanne.
Hundreds were detained after the clashes, which flared as tens of thousands of anti-globalisation campaigners marched on both sides of the Swiss-French border to protest the "illegitimacy" of the world leaders meeting in Evian.
Africa -- which G8
host Chirac wants to be a priority of the summit -- was again on the agenda for Monday, after a handful of African presidents joined in Sunday's discussions.
South African President Thabo Mbeki announced the European Union (news - web sites) had agreed to commit one billion dollars a year to a global fund to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (news - web sites) called on the G8
not to lose sight of the developing world, urging rich states to slash farm subsidies and boost debt relief.
Among other invited leaders was Chinese President Hu Jintao, making his first foreign foray since his appointment in March. He held talks with Bush focusing on the North Korean nuclear crisis but left Monday to continue his tour to Kazakhstan.
Now, if Bush has the grace to tell Americans to end the childish "boycott" of French goods, the world will be a step closer to sanity.