- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

CALGARY, Alberta Leaders of the G-8 nations yesterday agreed to spend $20 billion to help Russia decommission weapons of mass destruction, as President Bush sought to downplay a growing rift over his call for Palestinians to oust Yasser Arafat.

"We commit ourselves to prevent terrorists or those that harbor them from acquiring or developing nuclear, chemical, radiological and biological weapons, missiles and related materials, equipment and technology," the leaders of the Group of Eight Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States said in a statement after three days of meetings.

"The attacks of September 11 demonstrated that terrorists are prepared to use any means to cause terror and inflict appalling casualties on innocent people," said the statement.

The leaders also agreed to send billions of dollars in new funding to Africa and support the creation of an African peacekeeping plan by 2003 as part of an effort to deal with the protracted civil wars in Congo, Sudan and Angola.

As the leaders sought to spotlight their collective efforts to aid Africa and secure the world from attack with weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Bush downplayed a growing division over his call that Palestinians reject Mr. Arafat's leadership in upcoming planned elections.

"I'm very pleased with the response to my proposal in the Middle East. The response has been very positive," Mr. Bush said.

But just one leader at the remote village where the summit was held voiced unequivocal support for Mr. Bush's call to oust Mr. Arafat. The president said Monday that the Palestinian leader is "compromised by terror." The other leaders either opposed the call or sought to find a noncommittal middle ground.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi backed the U.S. call for a change in Palestinian leadership.

But other European leaders were less than positive about the president's proposal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was perhaps the most harsh, saying it would be "dangerous and mistaken" to remove Mr. Arafat, saying such an action risked a "radicalization of the Palestinian people."

Others, such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and G-8 host Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, equivocated about the U.S. call for Palestinians to oust Mr. Arafat.

Despite the cool reception, Mr. Bush said the United States will not accept Mr. Arafat as the leader of the Palestinian people even if he wins elections, set for Jan. 10-20, 2003.

The deal on Russia plutonium and weapons was sealed by Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin in a one-on-one meeting yesterday.

The joint G-8 statement said the eight nations would explore canceling some of Russia's old Soviet government debts and the debts of other countries willing to devote the money saved to accelerated efforts to safeguard materials that could be used by terrorists.

Under the deal, $10 billion will come from the United States and $10 billion from other G-8 countries over 10 years.

For its part, Russia agreed to provide its new G-8 partners with access to disposal sites, such as facilities where nuclear submarines are dismantled. Moscow also has ensured adequate auditing and oversight authority to its partners.

The agreement on Africa will commit increased aid and foreign investment to countries on the continent that are willing to eliminate government corruption and pursue free-market reforms.

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