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Europe’s economy to dominate G8 Camp David summit
Europe's economic struggles are set to dominate this weekend's Group of Eight(G8) summit at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, with concerns about energy and food prices as well as Afghanistan, Iran and Syria lower on the agenda
May 20, 2012 9:35 by Reuters
Europe’s economic struggles are set to dominate this weekend’s Group of Eight(G8) summit at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, with concerns about energy and food prices as well as Afghanistan, Iran and Syria lower on the agenda.
U.S. President Barack Obama will host leaders from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan, Canada, and the European Union at the rustic Catoctin Mountain Park getaway for less than 24 hours, with almost all of the talks behind closed doors.
Following are the main issues they are expected to tackle on Friday evening and Saturday:
The United States and other powers are watching Europe’s political turmoil with worry and see its debt struggles and slow growth as a potential threat to the global economy.
The Camp David summit will be the first G8 for France’s new president, Francois Hollande, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, offering the other leaders a chance to get to know them and assess Europe’s new dynamics in a somewhat informal setting.
Much of the discussion will be on where the European Union is headed and how to reconcile calls for more fiscal austerity with public appeals for more investment and faster job growth. Obama and the other non-European leaders present are likely to weigh in, and the G8 communiqué may include language intended to reassure increasingly skittish investors.
Other global economic issues, including concerns about the Chinese foreign exchange rate, will largely be left for next month’s G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
Speculation has grown that Obama will use a Saturday energy session at the G8 to seek support to tap emergency oil reserves before a European Union embargo of Iranian crude takes force in July. The Kyodo news agency said this week that Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda would support the call, which would follow months of quiet U.S. discussion with Britain and France.
But with oil prices already on a downward slope, a move by Obama to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve – alone or along with other countries – could expose him to criticism that the emergency supply should only be touched in a supply crisis.
Obama wants to build a united front to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from attacking his government’s opponents. But because Russian President Vladimir Putin is skipping the G8 – sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev instead – prospects for consensus are slim. Russia and China have protected Assad by blocking United Nations resolutions condemning his crackdown that has killed some 9,000 people since March 2011.
It is unlikely the G8 will make any firm declaration on whether the U.N.-backed peace plan brokered by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan has failed, leaving that to the United Nations to discuss.
Five of the six powers involved in nuclear diplomacy with Iran – the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – will be present in Camp David. The summit provides them a chance to assess their efforts and hear Hollande’s views on the issue where his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy took a tough stand.
Putin’s absence is less of a hindrance to Iran talks because there is broad agreement between Russia and the other powers about Tehran’s nuclear program. The next big push on this issue will likely come at the June G20 summit in Mexico, where the missing “P5+1″ member, China, will be present.
While Afghanistan will be the major subject at the NATO summit in Chicago that follows the G8, the Camp David talks will include discussion about Hollande’s plans to pull French combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.
The French president is under pressure to back down from that schedule. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has the third-largest troop contingent in Afghanistan behind the United States and Britain, has said NATO allies joined the war at the same time and should leave together.
Afghanistan’s economic transition is also on the formal G8 agenda for Saturday afternoon, just before a discussion of conditions in the Middle East and North Africa.
AFRICAN FOOD SECURITY
On Saturday, the G8 will discuss concerns about the risks of rising food prices and still-low agricultural investment and productivity in Africa, a theme the group has addressed before.
Obama has invited Benin’s President Yayi Boni, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ghana’s President John Atta Mills and Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete to take part in a session on African food security. No big new funding commitments or food aid pledges are expected to be made at the G8summit.
(Reporting By Laura MacInnis in Washington; editing by Mohammad Zargham