Middle East Conflict Shadows G-8 Summit

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President Bush arrives in St. Petersburg, ahead of the G-8 summit there. The president paid his respects at the city's World War II memorial, and met with Russian civil-society activists. But talk of fighting in the Middle East threatens to dominate G-8 meetings.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

People in both Israel and Lebanon are watching for attacks from the air today. Tens of thousands of Israelis have gone into bomb shelters after more rockets crossed the border. Israeli war planes have been flying in the other direction; they bombed the Beirut airport again today, along with other targets.

Israel said it was responding to attacks out of Lebanon by the militant group Hezbollah. Both Israelis and Lebanese have been killed.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The fighting is certainly on the minds of Western leaders on the eve of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accompanied President Bush to that meeting. She said leaders of the world's industrial nations are certain to discuss the conflict.

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (United States Secretary of State): We need to be able to return to the road map. We need to be able t2o return to our partnership with the people of Lebanon to fulfill their democratic aspirations. It is extremely important that Israel exercise restraint in its activities of self-defense.

MONTANGE: Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Joining me now from St. Petersburg is NPR's Gregory Feifer. And this conflict between Israel and Lebanon, is it going to overshadow the G8 summit?

GREGORY FEIFER reporting:

The conflict in the Middle East will certainly take away some focus from what Russia wanted to highlight at the G8 summit, which is energy security. Russian officials have told me that ongoing developments in the Middle East may change the agenda here. Certainly the G8 leaders will want to discuss the issue. According to the Lebanese prime minister, Mr. Bush promised to press Israel to halt its attacks. Mr. Bush has also said Israel has the right to defend itself but should not weaken the Lebanese government.

MONTAGNE: Greg, in the run-up to this summit, American and Russian negotiators were engaged in marathon talks on something else that's very much on Russia's mind, and that's admission to the World Trade Organization.

FEIFER: That's right. Both sides have been working very hard to hammer out an agreement on a trade deal between Moscow and Washington for Presidents Bush and Putin to sign at the G8 summit. Russia's finance minister yesterday said he hoped a deal would be reached in a day or two. Moscow really needs this agreement to join the WTO, something it's wanted to do for over a decade now. So it's a very big issue here, and it would be a very big feather in President Putin's cap if an agreement is signed between the two sides.

MONTAGNE: And Russia wants what, quickly, out of the WTO?

FEIFER: Well, it wants to join the WTO. American politicians are concerned that Russia is not defending intellectual property rights and isn't providing access for Western companies to Russia's agriculture market, among other issues.

MONTAGNE: And how would you describe the relationship between President Bush and President Putin these days?

FEIFER: It goes up and down. The relationship at the moment seems pretty good. The two are quite friendly when they meet. But that friendship masks seriously deteriorating ties between the U.S. and Russia over Moscow's energy policy and also Russia's turn away from democracy. Mr. Bush will be meeting with human rights groups in St. Petersburg today, which is certain to displease the Kremlin. There's also news that a radio reporter from a Moscow station has been arrested. So the situation is rocky over human rights, and that may affect the outcome of the summit.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Gregory Feifer in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the G8 summit will soon start.

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