African Poverty Tops G-8 Agenda

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President Bush and other world leaders kicked off the G-8 summit Monday in Japan, with poverty in Africa at the top of the agenda. Three years ago, members set a goal of increasing world aid to Africa by 2010, but some worry that they will fall short.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The G-8 Summit is being held on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, and there's where we found NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

Anthony, welcome to the program once again.

ANTHONY KUHN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I've got to ask, having listened to Richard Harris's report there, we had been told that at least American perceptions, maybe global perceptions, about global warming have really changed in the last few years, but this sounds like the same old arguments. Are developing nations going to take more of a burden or will developed nations do more? Can you do anything that gets through the United States Senate, and so on?

KUHN: Well, there's a lot of pessimism here that the developed nations are going to deliver anything new on climate change. For example, there's been a lot of talk here about biofuels. And a report that was supposed to have been published about the World Bank that says that the use of biofuels has pushed up food prices by 75 percent, far more than the U.S. government says. But that report was apparently squashed.

There's also been a great deal of pessimism about the issue of aid to Africa, which is the other big thing on the agenda today. And African nations and NGOs feel that not only is it unlikely that there will be new commitments for new aid, but that the G-8 are probably going to be backsliding on the commitments they've already made. In 2005, they promised that they would double aid to Africa. NGO groups say that actually they've only done about 17 percent. And so they're way behind on their targets for 2010.

INSKEEP: So you've got concerns about food prices. You've got concerns about poverty. And global warming might get lost in the shuffle, is what you're saying.

KUHN: That's correct. And the reason that African nations and NGOs and activists want an increase in commitment is because gains that have been made in poverty eradication have been erased by these increases in food and fuel prices. And people are being pushed back into poverty. But there's apparently no discussion of any increases on the board here.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Anthony Kuhn. He's in Japan, which is where the leaders of the G-8 - the group of eight leaders - are meeting. And two of them are President Bush and the new president of Russia, who met today for the first time. What have you been able to learn, Anthony?

KUHN: Well, the two sides - President Medvedev and President Bush - affirm their commitments on issues like North Korea and Iran and basically said that they were on the same page. They're not any closer on issues such as the missile shield. And President Medvedev, again, said that the U.S. putting up missile defense systems in Eastern Europe could trigger a military response by Russia. So there doesn't seem to be any meeting of minds, although their personal relationship seems to have gotten off to a cordial start.

INSKEEP: The president didn't say anything about looking into his eyes and seeing a soul, I assume.

KUHN: A little early for that. But President Medvedev is believed to be going to follow through very much on his predecessor, President Putin's platform. So their entente should be fairly cordial.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about another thing, Anthony. President Bush has had to defend his decision to attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, which are now just about a month away. What is he saying about that as he meets with these world leaders?

KUHN: Well, at a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda yesterday, he had to defend his decision to go to the Olympics. Human rights campaigners are saying that he should boycott that out of respect for China's human rights situation. But President Bush said that would be an affront to the Chinese people.

He also had to defend his administration's moves to ease sanctions on North Korea. Japan is unhappy about that because of the issue of abductees, Japanese citizens who were - Japan claims were kidnapped during the 1970s and 80s. And President Bush had to defend himself against claims that Washington was actually appeasing North Korea. He said he would not abandon Japan, a major U.S. ally, on this issue and would not ignore the issue of the abductees.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much, Anthony.

KUHN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn. He's at the G-8 Summit in Japan.

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