Syria, N Korea crises deepen - G8 meet

2012-04-11 19:37

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Washington - Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight major economies arrived for talks in Washington on Wednesday as pressure mounted for international action over security fears in Syria and North Korea.

Top diplomats from the United States, Russia, Canada, Italy and Japan gathered as Syria, despite continued regime attacks on rebels, promised to respect a Thursday ceasefire and North Korea moved closer to launching a long-range rocket.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greeted the ministers, after saying on Tuesday she would raise Syria and UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's ceasefire plan with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the margins of the two-day G8 meetings.

"I think there will be a very rough couple of days in trying to determine whether we go to the Security Council seeking action, knowing that Russia is still not on board," she said on Tuesday.

Like other G8 capitals, Moscow, a Syrian military ally, has backed the peace plan, but it puts far more weight on the Syrian opposition halting 13 months of violence and has vetoed UN Security Council measures condemning Assad.

Under the Annan plan, Syria's armed forces were supposed to have withdrawn from protest centres on Tuesday, with a complete end to fighting set for 48 hours later.

Continuing to mount attacks, Syria announced on Wednesday that it will cease military operations against rebel fighters from Thursday, but Clinton has demanded deeds, not words from President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Britain's William Hague and France's Alain Juppe were to arrive later for the G8 talks here, while German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle had also not arrived.

Rocket launch

The G8 foreign ministers will also discuss nuclear-armed North Korea's planned launch of a rocket which Pyongyang says is aimed at putting a satellite into orbit, but much of the rest of the world says is a disguised missile test.

Defying worldwide calls to back down, North Korea said on Wednesday it is fuelling a rocket for launch between April 12-16.

During a Tuesday press conference in Washington, Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba warned of "appropriate" action at the United Nations if the North goes ahead with the launch.

"It is necessary for us [at the G8] to issue a very strong message," Gemba added.

G8 members the United States, Russia and Japan are part of the troubled six-party nuclear disarmament talks which also involve South Korea, North Korea and China.

The planned rocket launch has undercut a February 29 deal with the United States in which North Korea agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program along with nuclear and long-range missile tests in return for massive food aid.

The ministers are also expected to discuss Iran's controversial nuclear ambitions ahead of weekend talks between Tehran on the one hand and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany on the other hand.

All but China and Iran are G8 members.

The club was long the pre-eminent forum for global decision-making, but President Barack Obama's administration has put a greater focus on the Group of 20, which also includes major emerging economies such as China and India.

The foreign ministers meeting is designed to prepare for a summit in May in Camp David, Maryland.

Joining the G8 meeting was European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Read more on:    g8  |  syria  |  north korea  |  syria conflict  |  north korea nuclear programme
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