Bush: On the offensive

The stage for a possible clash was set on the eve of the summit. US President George Bush on Saturday challenged Europe to remove trade barriers and open up to genetically modified crops.

 

Bush’s free trade agenda is expected to spark off a verbal duel with France over food subsidies and genetically modified (GM) food.

 

France is  the main beneficiary of generous European Union farm subsidies. The US says the subsidies distort trade. France is a vociferous opponent of GM food, forcefully being pushed by the US, and has resisted its entry into Europe.

 

The summit is the first meeting of the world’s top eight industrialized nations (G8) since the US invasion of Iraq. The G8 countries were wracked by differences on the issue of military action against Iraq, in the run up to the invasion.

 

Bitter fight

 

The US and France, in particular, were engaged in a bitter war of words with far-reaching implications for their alliance.

 

Bush set out his agenda for the G8 summit during a “thanksgiving” visit to Poland which had backed the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

   

In a keynote speech in Krakow, he said the US remained committed to a strong Atlantic alliance and sought to put the bitter rifts over the Iraq crisis behind him.

 

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, ensured that the diplomatic wounds of the Iraq conflict were not forgotten.

 

Chirac: Softening?

In a media interview, she listed a string of grievances against France just hours before Bush and French President Jacques Chirac were due to meet.

   

However Chirac, speaking after an EU-Russia summit in St Petersburg, insisted that Franco-US relations were good.  He also played down Bush's decision to leave the Evian summit a day before the end to attend meetings in the Middle East.

   

The G8 summit meanwhile has come under attack from other quarters. Anti-globalisation activists clashed with police in protests against the summit.

 

Protesters stoned police guarding the venue of  a French Socialist Party meeting in the town of Annemasse. Officers responded by firing volleys of teargas.

   

Thousands of Swiss and French police mounted a giant security operation on both sides of Lake Geneva to shield the summit, in the spa town of Evian.

 

Frogmen combed the scenic lake. Cars were searched at dozens of roadblocks, and surface-to-air missiles were deployed close to the leaders' hotel.