07/14/2006, 00.00
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Middle East, North Korea, Iran focus of G8 starting tomorrow in Russia

The economic growth of Asia and other countries, and the new "cold war" between Russia and the United States are increasingly undermining the importance of the meeting. Experts say it is a must to expand the body to include India and China.  

St Petersburg (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The G8 summit opens tomorrow in St Petersburg. The crises in North Korea, the Middle East and Iran, as well as global energy security, will be on the agenda. But there are growing fears that the usefulness of this body is decreasing in a scenario of renewed "cold war" between Russia and the United States. Meanwhile, there are more and more calls for the rapid admission of states like China and India.

Over 3,000 delegates are expected to attend from the world's eight most industrialized countries – the United States, Japan, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Russia – and also from Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa. They will debate topics like energy, infectious diseases and education, trade and intellectual property rights, non proliferation and development in Africa.

On 16 July, a "collateral" meeting will take place between the Chinese president, Hu Jintao and the leaders of other observer states (expected in Russia on 17 July) to "exchange viewpoints on the main questions", said Jiang Yu, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

The G8 is seeing its importance diminish: member states now produce less than 45% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To restore importance to the organism, "the first essential step," said William Smyser, professor of Georgetown University, "should be to invite China and India to join the G8, making it the new G10. That would bring the forum's share of world GDP back over the 60% level that is necessary to lend authority to its decisions." 

The new climate of "cold war" emerging between Russia and the United States is another reason for the necessity of expansion to include these new countries (which together account for more than 2.4 billion people).

The United States is inviting Russia to "share common values with us," as US president George W. Bush said yesterday at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Moscow said that "sometimes the [US] words and thoughts do not coincide". Vladislav Surkov, deputy president of the Kremlin administration, said: "They talk to us about democracy while thinking about our hydrocarbons." 

Fortified by its energy sources and geographical position, Moscow is pursuing global strategies that would cut the West out. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, announced during a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Shanghai on June 15 that "Gazprom is ready to support the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and India with financial resources and technology".  It has been estimated that by 2015, the gas pipeline – strongly desired by Teheran but boycotted by Washington – will channel 70 million cubic metres of gas per year to the two countries, but it would stretch as far as Yunnan in China. Russia and Iran have the world's largest reserves of gas and their energy alliance would be well regarded by energy-starved India, Pakistan, China, and states of central Asia.

The SCO, which India and Iran attended as observers, wants to establish stable consultations on gas prices. Such an alliance could overshadow not only the United States but also OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries). Europe is also worried; it receives a good chunk of its energy supplies from Russia and is currently discussing new agreements with Moscow after unexpected supply cuts last winter. Putin has countered accusations of a lack of respect for civil rights and about his energy policy by saying he did not need to justify himself with the "colonialist" West and he is looking ever more to the east.

And on the eve of the G8, after eliminating his public enemy number one, the Chechen rebel, Shamil Basayev, he banished all the homeless street vendors, intellectuals and his critics from St Petersburg.

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