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G-8 Summit Covers Mideast Reform, Iraq

U.S. and other G-8 leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia rewrote much of the original Greater Middle East Initiative, calling it the Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa.

G-8 officials adopted a compromise version of the Bush administration’s draft after tying it to efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at the insistence of the European members.

The plan aims to spur democracy by providing support for grassroots groups, training 100,000 new teachers over the next decade and providing loans to fledgling entrepreneurs, according to the Associated Press.

Arab leaders said the revamped plan was an improvement from the original, but other Arabs still doubted Washington’s intentions and commitment to a fair peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Reuters reported.

Arab governments considered the original proposal, leaked in February, part of a U.S. plan to reorganize the Middle East region to suit U.S. and Israeli interests.

But Yemen Deputy Foreign Minister Mustafa Noman said the final form takes into consideration Arab countries’ initial problems with the plan. “We are committed to reform and we must carry on with this process without any sensitivities and we are looking forward to receiving the necessary international support,” he told Reuters.

Kuwaiti officials also responded positively. “The reforms themselves are just, needed, and the people of the region deserve to take their freedom,” Mohammad al-Saqer, a liberal member of parliament, told Reuters. “All the reforms demanded are based on democracy, human rights and development.”

But others in the Arab world had a more negative reaction. Fawaz Turki, a columnist for the Saudi Arabian English-language daily Arab News, said Arabs did not trust Washington because of its policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The U.S. is missing the problem because it is the problem,” he wrote, according to Reuters.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said at the start of the summit that they would like NATO to get more involved in Iraq. Sixteen NATO countries already have troops in Iraq, but the alliance is split on providing more support.

French President Jacques Chirac, a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, said he had strong reservations about expanding NATO involvement in Iraq, saying it did not seem to fit into the alliance’s mission.

He and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said any such request should come from the Iraqi government.

NATO leaders reportedly plan to discuss the issue at their own summit in Turkey later in the month.

On Africa, the G-8 leaders were expected to endorse proposals supporting research on an AIDS vaccine, a famine initiative and a U.S. proposal to train more than 50,000 new peacekeepers in the next five years, the AP reported.

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