G8 diplomats meet as Syria, N. Korea crises deepen

WASHINGTON: Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight (G8) major economies open talks in Washington later Wednesday as pressure for international action mounts over security fears about Syria and North Korea.

The top diplomats from the United States, Russia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan were set to meet as Syria appeared to breach a ceasefire deal and North Korea threatens to launch a long-range rocket.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she will in particular raise Syria and UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s ceasefire plan with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the margins of the two-day G8 meetings.

Like the other G8 capitals, Moscow, a Syrian military ally, has backed the plan, but it puts far more weight on the Syrian opposition to stop 13 months of violence and has vetoed UN Security Council measures condemning Assad.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he would also bring up the Syrian question at the G8 talks.

Paris will insist “that on April 12 the Security Council draw all the conclusions from this situation and consider what new measures are necessary to put an end to the violence and start a political dialogue,” Juppe said.

Under the peace plan, Syria’s armed forces were supposed to have withdrawn from protest centers on Tuesday, with a complete end to fighting set for 48 hours later.

The G8 foreign ministers will also discuss nuclear-armed North Korea’s planned launch of a rocket which Pyongyang says is aimed at putting a satellite into orbit but much of the rest of the world says is a disguised missile test.

The launch is scheduled for between April 12-16.

During a joint press conference in Washington on Tuesday, Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba warned of “appropriate” action at the United Nations if the North goes ahead with the launch.

“It is necessary for us (at the G8) to issue a very strong message,” Gemba added.

G8 members the United States, Russia and Japan take part in the troubled six-party nuclear disarmament talks which also involve South Korea, North Korea and China.

The planned rocket launch has undercut a February 29 deal with the United States in which North Korea agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program along with nuclear and long-range missile tests in return for massive food aid.

The ministers are also expected to discuss Iran’s controversial nuclear ambitions ahead of weekend talks between Tehran on the one hand and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany on the other hand.

All but China and Iran are G8 members.