AFP: Group of Eight foreign ministers told Iran on Thursday to keep its nuclear programme on ice, and urged Syria to stop meddling in Lebanon, as they paved the way for next month’s summit of the G8 world powers. AFP
by Robert MacPherson
LONDON – Group of Eight foreign ministers told Iran on Thursday to keep its nuclear programme on ice, and urged Syria to stop meddling in Lebanon, as they paved the way for next month’s summit of the G8 world powers.
Middle East issues dominated the day-long meeting, with the diplomatic “quartet” on Middle East peace stressing the “urgent need” for Israel and the Palestinians to coordinate a planned Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip.
In addition, concern over recent turmoil in Zimbabwe also featured, with the G8 foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States urging the government there to respect human rights and the rule of law.
In a statement issued at the end of a day-long meeting, the ministers said, “to build confidence, it is essential that Iran adhere to the Paris agreement and keep all fuel cycle activities fully suspended”.
The Paris agreement, reached in November 2004, committed Iran to temporarily suspending uranium enrichment in return for pledges of economic incentives from the European Union.
“Concerns were expressed about Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its attitude towards terrorism,” the G8 statement said, adding that peace in the Middle East hinged on Tehran ending alleged support for terrorist groups.
Thursday’s meeting was intended to set the stage for the July 6-8 summit of leaders from the G8 industrialised nations at the Gleneagles resort in Scotland.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will host the summit, hopes it will be a springboard for progress on tackling both global warming and poverty in Africa.
On Lebanon, the G8 said it deplored a new wave of political killings, as it called upon its neighbours — “in particular Syria” — to fully comply with UN resolutions which call for an end to foreign meddling.
The United States also stepped up pressure on Damascus, saying it is “certain” that Syria still has intelligence agents operating in Lebanon to destabilise the country.
Syria withdrew the last of its troops in April to end a 29-year presence. But a senior US official, who asked not to be named, said: “There is no question that Syrian military intelligence agents have stayed behind and are asserting a very negative influence.”
Turning to Zimbabwe, where a government clean-up campaign involving the flattening of illegal shacks and buildings has left hundreds of thousands homeless and claimed the lives of two children, the G8 ministers voiced their “serious” concern.
“We discussed the current situation and the ongoing police operations which have reportedly left thousands of the most vulnerable homeless and destitute,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told a joint news conference after the meeting.
“And we call on the government of Zimbabwe to abide by the rule of law and respect human rights,” he said.
In a day of diplomacy, ministers from the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations reiterated a call for Israel and the Palestinians to live up to their obligations under the “roadmap” for peace.
The so-called quartet meeting in London took place as Israel and the Palestinians were coming off a disastrous summit on Tuesday as they tried to prepare for Israel’s pullout from Gaza and some West Bank towns in August.
“The Quartet notes that less than two months remain until the announced start to disengagement, and emphasizes the urgent need for Israel and the Palestinians to work directly and cooperatively with each other,” it said.
Following morning talks with their Afghan counterpart Abdullah Abdullah, the G8 foreign ministers also congratulated Afghanistan on its “remarkable progress” since the overthrow of the hardline Taliban regime in 2001 and pledged to continue their support even after elections in September.
“We warmly welcome the prospect of parliamentary and provincial elections on September 18 as a further important step towards democracy,” the G8 said.
The statement of support from the G8 to President Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul coincided with news of fierce clashes in southern Afghanistan in which 132 Taliban rebels were killed, according to the Afghan defense ministry.
The G8 added, however, that “international security assistance will be necessary for some time to come” — a reference to multi-national forces deployed in Afghanistan to reinforce Karzai’s administration.