Middle East to dominate G8 talks

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight are gathering in Washington DC to discuss the situation in the Middle East, as the United States investigates abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

    Secretary of State Colin Powell faces questions about Iraq

    Talks on Friday between ministers from the US, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Italy and Russia will to focus on Iraq and the scheduled 30 June transfer of power, which Washington would like to back with a new UN Security Council resolution.
    State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Thursday that the ministers would have a separate discussion of the Iraq resolution and Iraqi issues before plunging into other matters.

    But while Washington would like to keep military and security control, other members of the G8 and Security Council, particularly France, Germany and Russia want the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government to be as complete as possible with a UN role included.

    The scandal over the abuse of Iraqi inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad has left the US in a delicate position on Iraq. All of the countries present on Friday have condemned the practices.

    German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose country has been critical of the US operation, on Tuesday urged the US to restore its moral leadership badly hurt by the international outcry over the shocking images.

    Middle East issues
    The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also will be high on the agenda as will US attempts to foster economic and political reform in the Arab world of which Boucher said there would be "significant" and considerable" discussion.
    The US government has waged a complicated and delicate diplomatic campaign to try to soften the feeling its support for Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip has generated.

    Concerns are that it could be a prelude to public US support for more controversial Israeli plans to keep illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, or refuse the right of Palestinians to return to lands they were driven off when Israel was created in 1948.

    Powell also was due to address the US Greater Middle East Initiative, which backs political and economic reform in the region. The plan sparked considerable criticism in many parts of the Arab world where some see it as an effort to impose external, Western values.

    Once the G8's work wraps up, Powell will travel to Jordan to take part in a session of the World Economic Forum. He will take up these issues with Arab leaders on hand including Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya.



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