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September 26, 2017

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G-8 leaders wrap up summit dominated by Mideast

President George W. Bush appealed to his big-power allies on Thursday to do more to guide Iraq's transformation into a stable democracy, saying the "Iraqi people need help" to defend themselves, rebuild their country and hold elections.

Bush's comments, made after a private meeting with a skeptical French President Jacques Chirac, came as the annual Group of Eight summit of big industrial powers was winding down — without Bush winning any additional commitments from summit partners for help on Iraq.

At the same time, world leaders are pledging a united effort to promote democracy and prosperity across the larger Middle East.

But that rare show of unity masks lingering discord on both that plan and, more urgently, on ways to support Iraq.

Chirac has objected to Bush's suggestion that NATO take a greater role in Iraq.

Those differences extended into his bilateral meeting with Bush, who acknowledged past differences with the French president but told reporters, "Friends are able to discuss the future."

Bush said he and Chirac discussed "whether or not there is a continued role for NATO" in Iraq.

"We understand the Iraqi people need help to defend themselves, to rebuild their country and, most importantly, to hold elections," Bush said.

Chirac did not mention the dispute, but spoke instead of how much he had enjoyed the G-8 summit, particularly the food. "This cuisine here in America was certainly on a par with French cuisine," he said.

Bush said the French president "particularly liked the cheeseburger he had yesterday."

On Wednesday, Chirac said that, while he is "open to all discussion" on a possible role for NATO in Iraq, "I don't think it is NATO's purpose to intervene" in that country.

A senior administration official present at Thursday's bilateral meeting said Chirac had been "cautious, careful, but not negative" on the issue.

Bush aides said they expected to find some common ground before a NATO summit in Turkey this month.

The leaders of the G-8 countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States — were wrapping up a summit dominated by the Middle East with a session with African leaders on Thursday.

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The G-8 was to endorse an initiative to attack famine. It was also to commit to training and, where necessary, equipping 75,000 peacekeepers to deal with crises in Africa and elsewhere, a U.S. official said.

The group also endorsed a proposal to accelerate development of a vaccine for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and Bush on Thursday proposed spending US$15 million to launch it.

After weeks of bad news out of Iraq, Bush claimed a victory as the summit began Tuesday, when the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution granting legitimacy to the new Iraqi interim government.

Bush also met on the summit's sidelines with Iraq's new interim president, Ghazi al-Yawer.

The two discussed Iraqi reconstruction and the country's relations with Syria and Iran, said a senior U.S. administration official present at the session.

During a picture-taking session, al-Yawer told Bush that his country was "moving in steady steps" toward democracy.

On Wednesday, the G-8 adopted a compromise version of Bush's plan to push reform across the greater Middle East, but tied such an effort to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, at European insistence.

The plan aims to spur democracy by providing support to grass-roots groups, training 100,000 new teachers over the next decade and providing loans to fledgling entrepreneurs.

But Bush piggybacked his initiative to programs already being carried out by European countries, including in the sectors of trade, economic reforms and other fields.

Some countries have been suspicious of the whole enterprise, seeing it as unwanted meddling by the Bush administration.

Jordan welcomed help from the G-8, saying Arabs realized they needed to address deficiencies in education, civil rights and the position of women.

Others were more wary. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, speaking during a visit to Bulgaria Wednesday, warned "the great powers not to act through different civil society groups in the Arab countries because such efforts could turn counterproductive." He did not elaborate.

Bush did not elaborate on what he meant by an expanded role for NATO now that an interim Iraqi government is in place.

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