G-8 Ministers Address Afghanistan, Iran Crises

The foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations lamented widespread corruption in Afghanistan. The ministers, who met in Trieste, Italy, also denounced post-election violence in Iran but avoided condemning the government's crackdown on protesters.

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Foreign ministers of the Group of 8 industrialized nations wrapped up their meeting in the northern Italian city of Trieste today lamenting widespread corruption in Afghanistan and calling for better international cooperation to improve regional stability. The ministers also issued a strong denunciation of the post-election violence in Iran but they avoided condemning the Iranian government's crackdown on protesters there.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us from Trieste. Sylvia, thanks for being with us.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: The ostensible purpose of the G8 meeting was to discuss the stabilization of Afghanistan, but I gather events in Iran overshadowed much of that conversation. But let's not put it out of mind. What conclusions did the ministers reach on Afghanistan?

POGGIOLI: Well, the idea was that the Afghan issue should be addressed in the context of the entire region. So the foreign ministers of both Afghanistan and Pakistan were here. In their joint statement, the ministers complained that in Afghanistan insecurity and widespread corruption continue to obstruct delivery of basic services, including health, education and water.

The G8 ministers also endorsed Pakistan's battle against the Taliban insurgents and said they remain committed to working with the Pakistani government as it tries to strengthen democratic institutions and civil society in the face of terrorism, extremism and militancy.

Now, on the thorny issue of drug trafficking and the opium trade, which helps fund the extremists, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, said today that eradication efforts are a waste of money and he announced a new American policy that will be the focus on drug interdiction and alternate crops.

And in fact, the ministers in their final statement said that agriculture is the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But on the issues of security and the controversial issue of sending more NATO troops from European countries to Afghanistan, they were not on the agenda and were very carefully avoided.

SIMON: Sylvia, let's remind ourselves: the Group of 8 is the U.S., Canada, Japan, Britain, Germany, France and Italy, and Russia - all countries with subtly or not-so-subtly different positions on events in Iran. How difficult was it to reach a common position?

POGGIOLI: Well, with its closer ties with Tehran, Russia made it very clear that it has no intention to condemn Iran sharply. Moscow has accepted the election results that returned to power President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said he's sure that the post-election issues will be resolved legally and through democratic procedures.

But the G8 statement also reflects the desire of the United States and European countries not to slam the door on dialogue with Tehran. So the wording was clearly a compromise between these countries. The G8 ministers also voiced deep concern over the proliferation risks posed by Iran's nuclear program, but said we remain committed to finding a diplomatic solution to that problem.

But there's little optimism here that those talks can begin anytime soon, especially after Tehran's strong attacks against the U.S. and Britain.

SIMON: Sylvia, on the sidelines, I gather there was a meeting of the representatives of the Mideast quartet - the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia. What did they decide?

POGGIOLI: Well, this was their first formal meeting since President Obama took office, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that with the Obama administration now in office there's a historic opportunity for peace. For the first time the quartet appears to be speaking with one voice and echoing the U.S. administration.

It called for a total freeze of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and a lifting of the Gaza blockade. The U.S. Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, was here, and he denied that the Obama administration and the conservative government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are heading in different directions.

Mitchell said there may be some differences of opinions but we discuss them not as adversaries but as friends.

SIMON: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Trieste. Thanks so much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Scott.

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