NAGO, Okinawa World leaders joining President Clinton for his final summit of wealthy industrial nations patted themselves on the back Friday for the robust global economy but fretted that a huge runup in oil prices could spoil the good times.
Meeting on this island of semitropical beaches and coral reefs, the leaders also signaled a willingness to open their checkbooks to help underwrite any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. By some estimates, the cost could be upward of $40 billion.
It was an upbeat farewell for Clinton, who with just six months left in office, was the senior statesman among presidents and prime ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Canada and Italy. Several colleagues praised Clinton for hosting the Mideast peace talks at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. French President Jacques Chirac saluted Clinton for "his courage and determination."
Clinton, due to return Sunday evening to Washington, trimmed his schedule to arrive home a few hours earlier. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Clinton would move up his scheduled meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his speech to U.S. troops in Okinawa to Saturday night, and was due to arrive back in Washington around 5 p.m. CDT Sunday.
Meanwhile, Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori agreed today to extend, for a fourth year, trade talks on a broad range of business sectors, from telecommunications to financial services and pharmaceuticals. And Clinton fielded fresh objections from other leaders to U.S. plans for a missile defense system.
Russian President Vladimir Putin renewed Russia's strong opposition. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said, "I'm skeptical about it." Chirac said the proposed missile shield is technically unpredictable, would cost a lot of money and could lead to a new nuclear arms race.
"Everything that goes in the direction of proliferation is a bad direction," Chirac said.
The leaders gathered at the seaside Bankoku Shinryo conference hall, built for the summit and named after the inscription on a 15th century bell, which in Japanese means "a bridge between nations." Earlier, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien sought relief from the heat at Okinawa's only ice hockey rink. Schroeder toured a small island where local residents saved the German crew of a ship wrecked in 1873.
The leaders took satisfaction about escaping a global recession after the 1997-98 Asian currency crisis. With the notable exception of Japan, many of the hardest-hit crisis countries are staging strong recoveries. Since last year, they said, prospects for world economic growth have improved.
However, a summit statement said, "We are concerned about the adverse effect on world economic growth of recent developments in world crude oil markets." The leaders called for greater stability of oil markets to help insure sustained economic growth.
They also promised to share global prosperity with poor countries, speeding up the process of forgiving their heavy burden of debt or at least rescheduling payments under more favorable terms.
The summit countries also were expected to offer increased help to fight AIDS in poor nations and educate the estimated 100 million poor children not in school.
Lael Brainard, Clinton's deputy national economic advisor, said several leaders voiced the need to get more poor countries to a point where they will qualify under terms set by the rich nations for debt relief. So far, only nine of the 40 nations have qualified but Brainard said the G-8 countries strongly supported making sure that countries are forced to devote any money saved on making interest payments on the debt to increasing their spending in such critical areas as education and health.
Over dinner, the leaders questioned Clinton about the Camp David talks and quizzed the Russian leader about his visit this week to North Korea.
The leaders said they "warmly welcome" the North-South Korean summit in June, adding that they encourage the dialogue to continue. In a statement, the leaders said: "We sincerely hope that such a process, including the faithful implementation of the South-North Joint Declaration, will usher in a new era in inter-Korean relations and reduce the tensions in the Korean Peninsula."
The statement also praised South Korea's open policy towards North Korea and Pyongyang's "constructive attitude." It said the North's reconfirmation of its moratorium on missile launches was a "positive step."
Talking later about North Korea with reporters, Chretien said, "We are all happy that their isolation seems to be going away, but we have to approach it in a careful way. We have to terminate the isolation of North Korea."
On the Net:
The official G8 summit site: http://www.g8kyushu-okinawa.go.jp