Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations met here yesterday to prepare for the June 1 to June 3 summit in the French resort town of Evian, with postwar Iraq likely to top the agenda.
Iraqi reconstruction, the global war against terror, the Middle East peace process and nuclear non-proliferation, especially in North Korea, are all to be discussed, with international security as the overriding theme.
The debate among the ministers, who attended a working dinner late Thursday, will pave the way for the summit of heads of state of the world's seven wealthiest nations plus Russia in the chic lakefront spa town in the Alps.
French President Jacques Chirac, host of the Evian summit, has called on G8 leaders to kickstart the flagging world economy by adopting structural reforms that would stimulate growth and job creation, and also has urged that the environment, debt relief and aid to Africa be addressed.
But the rebuilding of Iraq looked set to dominate the preparatory talks and the summit, with US Secretary of State Colin Powell seeking to overcome deep divisions sparked by the US-led war to topple Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.
Although three G8 nations -- Britain, Italy and Japan -- supported the war in Iraq, four others -- Canada, France, Germany and Russia -- opposed it, with Paris, Berlin and Moscow leading the antiwar charge at the UN.
The 14 to 0 approval in the UN Security Council on Thursday of a new resolution lifting sanctions on Iraq was likely to soften the tone of the meeting, but Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham acknowledged that tensions remained.
"The unspoken goal of this meeting is the mending of transatlantic relations," Graham told the French newspaper Le Figaro in an interview published yesterday.
The diplomatic row badly damaged US-French ties, and while Powell called French support for the UN resolution on Iraq a "step in the right direction," he said Washington was curtailing military ties with Paris.