The G8 meetings over the past weekend in St Petersburg have been dominated by energy and the Middle East, as analysts predicted.  However, the talks have also demonstrated divisions between the eight wealthiest nations in the world.

Following the decision of Russia's monopoly supplier, Gazprom, to sever gas supplies to Ukraine last year, there has been international concern that Russia will seek to use energy supply as a tool of foreign policy.  The EU and US have therefore called for increased international energy co-operation and this lead at the weekend to the G8 agreeing promote "open, transparent" energy markets.  However, Russia has stopped short of being drawn into ratifying the Energy Charter, a legal framework for international energy co-operation. 

The talks were inevitably dominated by the worsening situation in the Middle East between Lebanon and Israel.  The leaders of the G8 nations have blamed extremist forces for this latest escalation of violence although they have simultaneously called on Israel to cease military operations and withdraw its forces from Gaza.  However, while President Bush stated that Israel was defending itself against terrorism and cited Hezbollah as the cause of the renewed fighting, President Chirac issued a statement in defence of Lebanon.

On a more positive note, the African continent was again on the agenda yesterday despite concerns that it would be cast aside after having been covered in 2005.  The G8 pledged to tackle infectious diseases, increase education provision and secure reliable energy sources for the continent.  Other pledges included universal AIDS treatment by 2010 and the establishment of an African peacekeeping force.

The G8 leaders will today meet with representatives of leading developing nations China, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and India.  Free trade is set to dominate the agenda but this is a divisive issue with the UK, Italy and Germany continuing to pressurise France to cut its domestic farm protection policy. 


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