Reuters: The Group of Eight rich nations urged Iran and North Korea on Saturday to step back from moves that threaten international security, signaling a united front against two countries whose atomic aspirations have set the world on edge.
By David Ljunggren
HUNTSVILLE, Ontario (Reuters) – The Group of Eight rich nations urged Iran and North Korea on Saturday to step back from moves that threaten international security, signaling a united front against two countries whose atomic aspirations have set the world on edge.
The G8, at a summit in Huntsville, Ontario, north of Toronto, also pressed Israel and the Palestinians to work for direct peace talks, and said conditions in Gaza under an Israeli blockade were “not sustainable and must be changed.”
The G8’s final communique welcomed the new START treaty between Russia and the United States aimed at cutting nuclear weapons, but said atomic proliferation among states and extremist groups remained a grave threat.
The G8, which comprises the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia, singled out Iran and called on all nations to fully implement new U.N. sanctions on Tehran over its atomic program, which Western nations fear is aimed at producing weapons.
“We are profoundly concerned by Iran’s continued lack of transparency regarding its nuclear activities and its stated intention to continue and expand enriching uranium, including to nearly 20 percent,” the communique said.
The G8 called on Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes as Tehran maintains, and said it remained open to talks with Iranian officials.
Leading G8 nations including the United States and Russia helped shepherd through this month’s new U.N. sanctions against Tehran — hoping to boost pressure on Iranian leaders who have nevertheless vowed to keep the atomic program on track.
The G8 formally “deplored” the March attack on the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors, and blamed North Korea for an incident it said “is a challenge to peace and security in the region and beyond.”
South Korea is pressing for a U.N. resolution condemning North Korea for the attack, but Pyongyang’s main backer, China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, has not yet indicated it is ready to support such a move.
The G8 signaled it was fully behind South Korea and called for appropriate measures to be taken against those responsible for the attack, while asking all nations to enforce existing U.N. sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program.
It expressed “gravest concern about the nuclear test and missile activities” carried out by North Korea, calling them a clear threat to international peace and security, and said North Korea “does not and cannot” become a nuclear weapons state under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
‘IMPORTANT OPPORTUNITY’ FOR AFGHANISTAN
The G8 leaders agreed that Afghan President Hamid Karzai would have an “important opportunity” at a conference next month in Kabul to show he is making good on pledges to improve governance and security as the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan enters a pivotal phase.
With U.S. forces in Afghanistan due to hit 100,000 this summer and allies contributing a further 47,000 soldiers, Western countries are eager for signs of progress that will allow them to begin pulling out soldiers on schedule.
The war is widely unpopular, and doubts have grown about the overall strategy after President Barack Obama this week fired his top Afghan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, in the wake of an inflammatory magazine article.
The G8 statement said it fully supported Karzai’s efforts to strike a peace deal with moderate elements of the Taliban and said more credible and transparent parliamentary elections in September would mark a step forward for Afghan democracy.
The G8 urged both Israel and the Palestinians to keep working toward to direct peace talks, and expressed regret over the May 31 incident off Gaza that saw nine pro-Palestinian activists killed when Israeli commandos stormed an aid flotilla, earning international condemnation.
The group welcomed Israel’s decision to set up an independent public commission to investigate the incident, and urged Israel to fully implement a decision to begin relaxing the blockade imposed on Hamas-ruled Gaza some three years ago.
“The current arrangements are not sustainable and must be changed,” the communique said.
The group also called on Myanmar’s military rulers to free political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and urged both Kyrgyzstan and Sudan to be careful as they negotiate ethnic tensions and political transitions in coming months.
(Reporting by the Reuters G20 team; Writing by Andrew Quinn, Editing by Peter Cooney)