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Analysis: Iraq war shadow over G-8

By Robin Oakley
CNN European Political Editor

Security has been stepped up for this weekend's G-8 at Evian.
Security has been stepped up for this weekend's G-8 at Evian.

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Canada: Jean Chretien
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Germany:  Gerhard Schroeder
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Will President Bush's trip to Europe heal wounds inflicted by the Iraq war?

EVIAN, France (CNN) -- President Jacques Chirac of France would like to see progress on combating AIDS and poverty in Africa and stimulating world trade at the G-8 summit he is hosting in Evian.

U.S. President George W. Bush is signed up to similar aims. He has pushed through the U.S. Congress a $15 billion program on AIDS and has chided Europe for not doing more about African poverty and world hunger.

With world growth faltering and the dollar down some 15 percent against the euro in recent months, restoring confidence in the potential for growth of the world economy will be crucial at the G-8. It will make the focus of the summit leaders in Evian vital.

So will the eight concentrate on the future, or will they be dominated by their divisions over the recent past in Iraq?

That question is the 800-pound gorilla hovering in the background of the summit, said former U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin.

"The G-8 summit is about personal chemistry, and there are two big problems," Rubin said. "The president thinks (German) Chancellor (Gerhard) Schroeder lied to him, and the president thinks that Jacques Chirac screwed him."

It is a problem acknowledged in Europe too.

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, told CNN: "One hears people in the U.S. administration saying that the Americans should punish the French, ignore the Germans and make peace with the Russians.

"Well, that may be what people may feel and indeed think. But if that is the strategy that America pursues, then it will be very hard to get an agreement in Evian over how to move forward on the world economy."

G-8 optimists hope that the signing up of the French, German and Russians to the new U.N. resolution on post-war Iraq despite their reservations will have melted some of the diplomatic frost.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said: "We have had some differences in the past few months. We accept that. But we want to look towards the future."

But while Bush has sounded positive about the G-8 since coming to Europe -- telling Poles Saturday, "This is no time to stir up divisions in a great alliance" -- America has been slower to thaw.

When U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell attended a recent meeting of G-8 foreign ministers, his tone was different.

"We have had serious disagreement in recent months," Powell declared. "I am not going to paper over it and pretend it didn't occur. It did occur and we will work our way through that."

Deep suspicions remain. European members of the G-8 suspect Washington of playing divide-and-rule between so-called old and new Europe. The United States, meanwhile, is irritated that much of Europe is still keen to challenge it over the still-missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Trans-Atlantic divisions show on key developing-world issues, too.

Americans chide Europeans for refusing to encourage the use of genetically modified crops to help Africa's food problem. Europeans accuse Washington of blocking plans to get urgently needed medicines to poor countries because it is protective of U.S. drug companies and their patents.

With Chirac widening the scope of the G-8 summit by inviting African countries, China, Brazil, Egypt and Mexico for an "enlarged dialogue," wider questions are being renewed too about the make-up and role of the G-8.

Many are asking if the club should be widened beyond its current members -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- on a more permanent basis.

Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem of Justice Africa told CNN: "It is a gathering of the rich, for the rich, on behalf of the rich, and tough luck to those who come from the underdeveloped and developing worlds.

"I should be ashamed to be one of that kind of exclusive club which makes decisions for the rest of the world without the rest of the world being reflected in it."

India's huge population is not represented. Nor do the continents of Africa and South America have G-8 members. China is only being included this year as a fringe observer.

Risto Penttila, a Finnish security expert, calls the G-8 a "concert" of great powers.

He says: "It is about joint management of international affairs by the great powers. It is very much a 19th century thing rather than a 20th century thing, where great powers make up the rules and everyone else has to play accordingly."

Penttila says it is time to trim the four European seats at the table to a single one for the European Union. But he acknowledges that Britain, France, Germany and Italy would be unlikely to welcome such a move.

"They would be outraged, because giving up national sovereignty and national power would not be on the cards in today's world," he said.

The G-8 leaders are unlikely, though, to spend time in Evian discussing reform of their own organization. As usual, they will spend rather more time telling the rest of the world how to behave.

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