- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

Heiligendamm, a tiny Baltic Sea resort town in what was once East Germany, has been turned into a fortress.

A 15-foot-high fence topped with razor wire encloses three sides, while warships are moving into place to secure the approach from the sea. About 17,000 police officers and soldiers have been stationed at 100-yard intervals along the town’s perimeter.

The Germans have built the armed camp to host the annual Group of Eight (G-8) summit, which officially opens Wednesday. But some watchers of the contentious walk-up to the summit muse that the fence just might have been built to keep the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States in.

“Bush hates ‘em,” one top White House aide said of the summits. “They’ll need the fence.”

Former French President Jacques Chirac once threatened to skip a summit, and although some leaders enjoy the group photos showing them with their powerful peers, nearly all abhor the daily press coverage, which focuses on dissent and discord.

Still, the guest list for the summit this year may be much more to Mr. Bush’s liking, even if his closest international ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, will be stepping down just weeks after the summit concludes on June 8.

The German hostess, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a new power broker on the Continent, has worked hard to repair frayed U.S.-German ties that prevailed under her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder. New French President Nicolas Sarkozy — who, along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is making his G-8 summit debut — also has promised a better relationship with Washington than was the case under Mr. Chirac.

“There’s no question at the level of personalities and atmosphere, this is a major improvement for President Bush over some previous summits,” said Charles Kupchan, senior fellow and director of Europe studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On the agenda

As host nation for the 33rd annual summit of the G-8 — created after the 1973 oil crisis and the subsequent global recession — Germany has set a broad agenda that includes joint efforts on global climate change, financial-market reform and aid to Africa. Leaders from Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa have been invited to join a portion of the summit.

Mrs. Merkel has sought the ambitious goal of having the G-8 agree to concrete limits on carbon emissions and has sought to make climate change the focus of this year’s summit.

“It is important that the G-8 develops a common understanding of how climate change can be tackled and what agreements can be made for the period beyond 2012,” Mrs. Merkel said last week in Berlin, referring to the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.

Issues that might hijack the summit include Russia’s increasingly difficult relations with both Europe and the United States, the Iranian nuclear program and the still-unsettled status of Kosovo, which is seeking independence from Serbia.

On the fringes

While climate change will be a focal point, what often drives press coverage at the annual summit is what happens on the fringes.

“It is quite frequent that a big event happens, in the Middle East or somewhere, that dominates the summit,” said Reggie Dale, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Divisions over Iraq have overshadowed many of the recent G-8 gatherings — Mr. Bush walked out of a 2002 summit work session in Canada in a fury over the issue. The 2005 London subway bombings nearly derailed the G-8 summit held that year in Gleneagles, Scotland.

This year, the summit comes at a time of sharply rising tensions between Russia and the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sharply criticized U.S. foreign policy and a Pentagon plan to station elements of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, often employing strikingly personal and angry rhetoric. In response to the U.S. plans, Russia last week test-fired ballistic missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads.

Mr. Putin warned that the U.S. missile-defense plan would turn Europe into a “powder keg” and that the planned deployments would ignite a new Cold War-style arms buildup.

“We are not the initiators of this new round of the arms race,” he said.

Russia is also the summit’s odd man out on Kosovo, threatening to veto a plan to give the province “supervised independence” from Serbia, a longtime ally of Moscow. The Bush administration has strongly backed the plan.

Mr. Putin, who is slated to step down in March, has also been at odds with the European Union (EU) over energy policy and Russia’s human rights record. An EU-Russia summit last month hosted by Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Putin was so unproductive that the two sides could not even issue a joint communique at the end.

But analysts said last week it was doubtful there would be a major diplomatic meltdown in Heiligendamm. Mr. Bush last week invited Mr. Putin to his family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, at the beginning of July, in part to help repair the relationship between Russia and the United States.

Neither Mr. Putin nor the major Western leaders have an interest in advertising their divisions before the world’s press, said Stephen Sestanovich, a fellow in Russian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former top State Department official on Russia and Eastern Europe.

“There are problems, but I don’t think the G-8 summit will deepen the crisis,” Mr. Sestanovich said. “G-8 summits are never designed to be train wrecks.”

National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, briefing reporters Friday, acknowledged difficulties in the U.S.-Russia relationship, but said the two sides could still work together.

“These are two countries that have different histories, and in some measures, some very differing interests. But the president has been able to work this relationship in a way that benefits the policies of both countries. And he’s committed to try to continue to do that,” Mr. Hadley said.

But Mr. Bush has scheduled a trip to Prague before the summit, where he will deliver what White House officials are calling “the speech of the trip.” The president also is expected to defend the missile-defense system and argue it is targeted at rogue nations such as Iran and is not designed to block Russia’s massive nuclear arsenal.

The president leaves Heiligendamm for talks at Poland’s version of the Camp David presidential retreat in Jurata with President Lech Kaczynski. Poland is considering the installation of 10 missile-defense interceptors there and has also sought to placate Mr. Putin’s fears.

Mr. Bush ends his European trip with stops in Albania and Bulgaria, both former communist states on the other side of Europe’s Cold War divide.

“All four of those stops [including the Czech Republic and Poland] are defense-related, right under the nose of Russia,” CSIS’s Mr. Dale said.

U.S. wish list

Germany has outlined an ambitious agenda for the 2008 summit, but the Unites States — as it often does — has its own plans.

The president laid out some of those plans in a speech Thursday that the White House dubbed the U.S. “international-development agenda.”

In a pre-emptive move — and after steady international criticism — Mr. Bush called for a series of meetings to begin this fall, bringing together countries identified as major producers of greenhouse gases, including China and India.

His administration spurned the 1997 Kyoto Protocol requiring industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2012, mainly because China and India were exempted from the first round of reductions.

Seeking to drive his own agenda, the president last week urged other nations to eliminate tariffs on clean-energy technologies.

“My proposal is this: By the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases,” he said.

Rather than forcing nations to adhere to strict limits, Mr. Bush said his plan “would establish midterm management targets and programs that reflect their own mix of energy sources and future energy needs.”

The package is unlikely to satisfy Mrs. Merkel or other European leaders, but will be taken as a goodwill gesture from an administration that long rejected any compromises on the issue. Analysts said climate-change activists are already looking to Mr. Bush’s successor for any U.S. movement on emissions limitations.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been in Germany preparing the agenda on other issues, notably a push for increased action on the Darfur crisis in Sudan and on Iran’s nuclear programs.

Mr. Kupchan said the Iran issue in particular could be the source of some tough behind-the-scenes bargaining in Germany, as Tehran has rejected all efforts to curb its research programs that many think are meant to develop nuclear bombs.

Mr. Sarkozy is expected to be closer to the U.S. line that tougher steps are needed against Tehran, but Russia and some other European powers are skeptical that the hard-line approach will succeed.

“I worry we’re getting close to some difficult red lines” on Iran, Mr. Kupchan said.

New cast of characters

The German summit may well be remembered less for the script than for the cast.

With British Treasury Secretary Gordon Brown set to replace Mr. Blair and Mr. Putin scheduled to step down before next year’s summit in Japan, the G-8 powers could be in the midst of the most sweeping generational change in leaders since the early 1980s, according to Simon Serfaty, a European political specialist at CSIS.

“The dynamics may be changed now and in the coming years,” Mr. Serfaty said.

Mr. Abe has largely flown under the radar leading up to this year’s summit, but the Japanese leader already has said he plans to continue the G-8 focus on climate change as host of the 2008 summit.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, both attending their second summits, each face the challenge of balancing good ties with Washington with domestic political forces largely hostile to the United States.

Mr. Kupchan said popular hostility in Europe to the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq has not dulled. But leaders such as Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy are anxious to move on, and do not have the baggage of personal animosity that marred Mr. Bush’s relations with their predecessors.

“The shift in leaders works to Bush’s advantage,” he said. “Yes, he’s losing his best buddy, Tony Blair, but now he has in Berlin and Paris two more pragmatic, more pro-American leaders who are ready to work with him.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide