A senior US official, speaking on Tuesday as leaders from the G8 world powers prepared to open their annual summit, said the gathering would adopt an accord on Wednesday that expands the two-year-old programme as part of global non-proliferation efforts. 

"Tomorrow, the leaders will announce that seven new countries have joined the global partnership, those being Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and the Czech Republic," the official said. 

Global partnership

Those nations are joining what is known as the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, which was first unveiled at the G8 summit in Canada in 2002. 

The announcement, along with the adoption of a plan for a one-year freeze on new sales or transfers of uranium enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology, "will be the most significant statement on weapons of mass destruction that the G8 leaders have issued," the official said. 

The global partnership has been complemented since last year by a sister programme launched by US President George Bush, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which aims to stop WMD proliferation by intercepting those weapons and their components in transit.

Tight security

Meanwhile, leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia arrived to join Bush on the southeast coastal Sea Island in Georgia, under a fierce security blanket by the US secret service. 

Vladimir Putin is among world
leaders attending the summit

As at most modern world summits, the leaders will be holed up in splendid isolation, secured from supposed terror threats and anti-globalisation protests. 

Military helicopters thundered over Sea Island, the focus of a huge security net laid down by 10,000 law enforcement officers. The tight security extended to Savannah, 134km to the north, where the bulk of the international media is staying.

Airline measures

The White House said G8 leaders will agree to improve airline
security, including tougher screening and accelerated efforts to destroy shoulder-launched missiles. 

There also looks set to be an agreement on a broad plan to
train, equip and help deploy 75,000 soldiers and police for
peacekeeping missions by 2010, senior US officials said. 

Late on Wednesday the summit will move on to other world hotspots, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and North Korea's nuclear ambitions. 

On Thursday, G8 leaders are due to meet several counterparts from Africa, including South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki and Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade.