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G8 Falls Short on Middle East, Africa Goals

Full G8 membership and a $20 billion non-proliferation plan for Russia, along with $1 billion in debt forgiveness for Africa, dominated the G8 summit. But the leaders failed to agree on a plan for Middle East peace.

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Scoring big at Kananaskis: Vladimir Putin is returning to Russia with a few big trophies from the G8 summit.

The G8 summit of the world's richest industrial countries ended in Kananaskis, Canada, on Thursday with agreements on extending full membership and billions in non-proliferation aid to Russia and providing modest debt forgiveness for Africa's poorest countries.

However, a plan by United States President George W. Bush to call for the ouster of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat met with major resistance from his G8 partners.

Middle East debate sidelined

On the eve of the conference on Monday, Bush announced his new plan for peace in the Middle East and sought to make it the agenda leader at the annual summit. However, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretian held firmly to the course he charted and stuck, for the most part, with granting Russia membership and approving an aid package for Africa, a continent whose development is hampered by rampant disease and abject poverty.

Schröder offers support for Bush

Though the G8 failed to find agreement on the Middle East other than the need for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, Germany's Schröder offered support for the new Mideast plan Bush proposed on Monday.

"Everyone understands that as a matter of course, it is a given right for the Palestinian people to elect their own leaders," Schröder said. "That is a truism of democracy." At the same time, he said the building of democratic structures in the Palestinian-controlled areas is more important than individual leaders. Still, he said doubts about Arafat's ability to contain terrorism are justified.

New aid for Africa

At the secluded Rocky Mountain resort Kananaskis, the leaders signed off on an a debt-relief package for Africa. The agreement promises that half or more of the funds already pledged last March at a United Nations aid financing conference in Monterrey, Mexico, will go to African countries that root out corruption. The deal drew mixed reviews: German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder hailed it as a "significant decision," but the German chapter of the international relief organization Oxfam called it "hot air."

The G8 African Action Plan fell short of what Britain, Germany and Chrétien had been lobbying for.

Under the agreement, the G8 partners pledged to provide additional debt relief of up to $1 billion a year for the world's poorest countries. But they failed to firmly earmark for Africa half of the $12 billion a year in new aid pledged at the March meeting. Instead, the G8's closing statement expressed what many observers predicted would be the case: Aid decisions will be made by the individual G8 members rather than the Group of Eight itself.

The U.N. has estimated that at least $25 billion is necessary to meet international development goals for Africa, and development aid organizations said the G8 was merely providing "non-binding declarations of intent" to give more aid.

"I believe we must help this continent and the people living there. That has been made clear here," said German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. "For instance, it's clear that we're in the process of giving 50 percent of state development aid to Africa," he said.

That aid comes with the provision that the continent adopts policies to strengthen democracy, stability and free markets. And, despite lobbying from Britain and Canada, G8 members welcomed, but did not commit themselves to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the partnership for development proposed by African states which pledges corruption-free governments in return for aid. UN General Secretary-General Kofi Annan and leaders from five African countries had flown into the meeting under observer status to present the plan.

In the end, Africa stood in the shadow of Russia, which walked away from the summit with aid pledges of $20 billion in support for the safeguarding and decommissioning nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

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