The United States and Russia announced on Saturday a plan to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by setting up international enrichment centres as their leaders sought to give a boost to a big-power summit.
US President George Bush and Russia’s Vladimir Putin unveiled the initiative at a news conference after talks ahead of a Group of Eight summit that starts in earnest on Sunday.
The two leaders, striving to show a united front in tackling global problems after a sudden fall-off in US-Russian relations, also blamed the upsurge in Middle East violence squarely on Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas.
Bush also said he and Putin shared common ground on how to approach other hot topics such as the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea. But Putin sidestepped a direct question about possible sanctions against Iran — a point of difference with Washington and some other Western powers.
Putin said the two former superpower foes backed the creation of a system that would provide all states with access to nuclear power while guarding against proliferation of nuclear weapons.
”We have adopted a joint statement based on our separate initiatives on safe development of nuclear energy,” he said.
”Its main goal is to facilitate stable and reliable supply of all sorts of energy together with reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation.
”We believe this will become possible after the creation of international enrichment centres united into a single network under strict IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] control.”
On the Middle East, Bush called on Syria to exert its influence to persuade Hezbollah to stop attacks against Israel.
”The best way to stop the violence is for Hezbollah to lay down its arms and to stop attacking. And therefore I call upon Syria to exert influence over Hezbollah,” he declared.
The goodwill exuded by Bush at the joint press appearance did much to offset Russia’s disappointment at failing to get a deal with the United States that would pave the way for Russian entry into the World Trade Organisation.
It also appeared designed to lift the shadow of criticism away from Putin, who is under pressure from critics among his Western partners in the G8 because of his record on democracy.
Earlier Putin expressed early hope of success at the summit.
”I hope the meeting [with Bush] will give a good boost to the G8 summit,” Putin said before their talks.
Annnouncing earlier that attempts to reach a WTO deal had failed, Sean Spicer, spokesperson for US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, told Reuters: ”A final agreement has not been reached, but significant progress was made.”
The annual meeting of the G8 has in the past attracted anti-globalisation protests, but tight restrictions and heavy policing have kept all but a few hundred activists away from Russia’s second city.
Around 300 communist and leftist radical protesters — heavily outnumbered by Russian police — marched in central St Petersburg to protest against joining the WTO and what they said were moves by Moscow to serve Western interests.
They shouted ”Outlaw the G8”, ”Capitalism is shit” and ”Russia without Putin”. There were no clashes, though police detained several protesters who veered off the set route.
A group of about 300 anti-globalisation protesters given a distant sports stadium to rally inside planned to stage a ”break-out” from the arena later in the day, although organisers described it as a largely symbolic act. – Reuters