Syria dominated the discussions of G8 foreign ministers in Washington, who agreed to send a UN fact-finding team to the country. But, Iran's nuclear program, and Africa, were also on the agenda.
The ceasefire in Syria was not yet a day old, and the foreign ministers of the world's seven largest industrialized nations, and Russia, were expressing caution.
"If it holds, a cease-fire is an important step, but it represents just one element of [special envoy Kofi Annan's] plan," said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She listed the problems that remain: "The regime's troops and tanks have not pulled back from population centers. And it remains to be seen if the regime will keep its pledge to permit peaceful demonstrations, open access for humanitarian aid and journalists and begin a political transition."
Clinton's German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, also remained cautious. "If the ceasefire holds, then we would like the proposals of Kofi Annan to be supported," he said, expressing his backing for a UN advance team that would prepare the way for a full international monitoring mission. Clinton said such a team should be given unhindered access throughout Syria and should begin its work "immediately."
Russia supports UN resolution
There were indications that such an advance team could be adopted by the UN Security Council as early as Friday. According to news reports, the resolution this time has the support of both Russia and China, which had prevented a Security Council decision in the past. "Somebody must be there quickly to monitor the ceasefire," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told news agency dpa.
Westerwelle expressed his satisfaction with this hard-won agreement. "We were right not to let up with our efforts to influence Russia," he said. "Russia's decision, to make it clear to the regime of [President Bashar al-] Assad that it would no longer protect it no matter what, was of great importance for further developments."
According to Bruce Jones, an international politics expert at the Brookings Institution, Russia's rethink can only be partly attributed to the G8 meeting. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also played a part. The moment someone with a respected international reputation was appointed as mediator, "it became a question of Russia's honor" to help Annan's plans succeed, said Jones. This had been one reason Annan was appointed to the role.
G8: a 'strange' forum?
Speaking with DW, Jones warned against reading too much into the changed attitude of the Russians. In fact, the paragraph outlining the final resolution on Syria was relatively short. The Russians, according to Jones, have for their part also submitted demands to the Syrian opposition.
Syria, says Jones, is actually one of the issues for which the G8 is actually a useful forum, despite the fact that the usefulness of the group has been questioned in the past. In fact, he calls the grouping of seven Western states and Russia a "strange" combination. "The G7 had a political logic, because here seven Western states could coordinate their policies," said Jones.
And when it came to Syria, the eight states even pulled a ninth country into the mix, with the Turkish foreign minister linked up via video conference, at his own request.
"I think the question of the future of the G8 will come to the fore again, or we will see a process of expansion," said Jones, adding that the participation of Turkey can be thought of as the beginning of this process.
Iran, Africa also on the agenda
Nevertheless, scheduled G8 meetings still offer the opportunity to discuss current political hot spots, like the nuclear dispute with Iran, where Western countries and Russia both have an interest.
On Friday, representatives from Tehran, Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council will meet in Istanbul for the first direct talks in a year. Iran is suspected of building nuclear weapons, but recent sanctions imposed by the UN have had an effect, said Westerwelle.
"My impression, and this has become increasingly clear in Iran, is that a country's poor economic situation can be linked to international isolation," said Westerwelle. Clinton said they had received signals that Iran intended to make proposals at the Istanbul talks.
"They assert that their program is purely peaceful," she said. "They point to a fatwa that the supreme leader has issued against the pursuit of nuclear weapons." Clinton added, however, that the diplomatic negotiation window would not remain open indefinitely.
The foreign ministers of the G8 countries, which aside from the US, Russia and Germany also include Canada, Japan, Great Britain, France and Italy, also discussed developments in Africa. The German delegation said there was great potential in the continent, but listed many risky developments, such as the famine in sub-Saharan Africa, tensions between Sudan and South Sudan and the precarious security situation in Somalia.
In terms of Sudan, the G8 countries were unanimous in their view that South Sudan should be called on to withdraw from territories it has recently occupied. Clinton said the foreign ministers had discussed how international cooperation could help prevent conflicts, ensure food security and protect and promote democratic aspirations.
The meeting of the G8 foreign ministers also served as preparation for the annual summit of the G8 heads of state and government, due to take place from May 18 to 19 May at Camp David, outside the US capital. At this meeting, Jones expects there to be agreements in the areas of energy and food security - and it's almost certain that Iran will again play a prominent role.
Author: Christina Bergmann, Washington, DC / cmk
Editor: Gregg Benzow