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     Jun 6, 2007
Bush adds some sheen to US standing
By Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON - An ever-deteriorating situation in Iraq, a hostile Democratic Congress and a changing of the guard in some key allied countries may all combine to bring about a more cooperative, and perhaps more subdued, US President George W Bush at the summit of the Group of Eight (G8) most industrialized nations.

Sensing his relatively fragile position, Bush has unveiled a series of initiatives and overtures to the heads of state of the eight countries that in effect almost rule the world. Analysts say the



measures are mostly designed to add some sheen to the United States' lackluster global standing.

In a major speech ahead of the June 6-8 G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, Bush sought to double US anti-AIDS funding to US$30 billion for fiscal years 2009-13. He also urged the US Congress to approve a hike in US assistance to Africa to $8.67 billion by 2010.

Bush, who has been largely consumed by the war in Iraq for most of his two-term presidency, announced that he would even visit the impoverished African nations of Senegal, Mozambique, Zambia and Mali to "see the results" first-hand.

"Alleviating this suffering requires bold action from America, it requires America's leadership, and it requires the action of developed nations as well. That's the message I'm going to take with me to Europe ... when [his wife] Laura and I go to the G8," he said.

Criticized repeatedly by activist groups for not doing enough to stop the human tragedy unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, Bush also unveiled a series of sanctions that target top lieutenants of the Sudanese regime, who are accused of organizing attacks that have claimed at least 400,000 lives, displaced 2.5 million people and left more than 3.5 million men, women and children struggling to survive amid violence and starvation.

Bush sanctioned 31 additional companies owned and controlled by the Sudanese government, as well as two senior Sudanese government officials. He is expected to encourage US allies at the meeting, including the European Union, to follow through with similar sanctions.

He also pledged to continue US efforts to help resuscitate the World Trade Organization Doha Round of trade negotiations, which seek to expand market access in developing countries.

But the most controversial announcement so far has been his plan to deal with climate change.

The US president, whose country is the world's largest economy and the largest polluter, proposed a framework for developing a new international agreement on curbing greenhouse-gas emissions that would replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which Washington has refused to ratify for fear that it could thwart economic development.

The plan would target 10-15 countries that consume the most energy and emit the largest quantities of greenhouse gases. Bush said he would urge other leaders to increase their own investments in the research and development of alternative power sources to help reduce dependence on oil.

Those proposals will perhaps bolster his position when he joins the leaders of Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom and Russia at the G8 summit. After all, Bush is challenged at home by congressional leaders who have slammed his performance in eroding US leadership on a number of multilateral issues.

He will be faced with the task of improving relations with France, which chilled under former president Jacques Chirac, especially over the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. The new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will have his first meeting with Bush during this week's summit.

It will also be the final summit for Bush's No 1 friend in Europe, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who announced last month that he would resign effective June 27. Blair will be replaced by current Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.

The most senior G8 leader, Blair's popularity plummeted in large part because of his support of the Iraq war and accusations that he had manipulated intelligence to make a case for the 2003 invasion.

Bush will also visit Pope Benedict for the first time.

"Bush wants to have a very positive spin, start relations off on the right foot with [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe and Sarkozy. The Bush administration has changed its tune somewhat on climate. I think that's very clear," said Julianne Smith, Europe program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank. "We now have a Congress controlled by the Democrats. That's made a difference.

"So the instinct is to move away from, again, the shadows of Iraq and try and craft some new action points for the trans-Atlantic partners and try [to] keep the wheels turning on that," said Smith.

Some analysts went as far as to suggest that Bush's renewed interest in Africa and the challenge he posed to other nations to follow suit on Darfur are, at least in part, for media consumption, but could indeed prompt positive responses from the Europeans.

"This is the president trying to articulate a position where he's got a good legacy, and try [to] put that out front," said former US under secretary of commerce Grant Aldonas. "So part of it is PR [public relations]. But there is real substance here. This is something the president believes in. So I do think that there will have to be some response, simply because, at least rhetorically, he's put the other players between the sword and the wall."

Still, Bush's initiatives have failed to placate civil-society groups in the US.

The environmental organization Friends of the Earth described his proposal on climate change as embarrassing to the United States "in front of the entire planet".

The group is collecting signatures of apology to be presented at the German Embassy in Washington on Tuesday from US citizens angry that the proposal would only take effect after he leaves office, and would be non-binding.

The World Wide Fund for Nature, another environmental group, released "climate scorecards" on Monday that placed the United States last among the G8 countries in terms of action to halt global warming.

"The United States' bottom ranking underscores a disconnect between Bush's announcement last week and ongoing US attempts to block progress at G8 negotiations aimed at stopping dangerous climate change," said the group.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling on fellow heads of government to reach a landmark deal at the G8 meeting. This should include a commitment to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by half before mid-century compared with 1990 levels.

Other issues to be discussed at the summit will be investment, innovation, relations with Russia, and sustainability.

(Inter Press Service)


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