Britain and Russia discuss plan for 'Diamond Summit'

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Tony Blair took up the issue of conflict diamonds yesterday when he discussed plans with the Russian government for an international conference on diamond certification.

Tony Blair took up the issue of conflict diamonds yesterday when he discussed plans with the Russian government for an international conference on diamond certification.

In an evening meeting with President Vladimir Putin on the margins of the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa, the Prime Minister outlined plans for a gathering of some 30 diamond-producing countries to agree on ways of preventing profits from diamonds from fuelling some of Africa's most savage wars.

The meeting, to be jointly hosted by Britain and Russia by October, would aim to win the widest possible agreement on ways of excluding "blood" diamonds, such as those which have sustained rebels in Sierra Leone, from the market.

The move was designed to shore up reluctant Russian support for international efforts to create a global scheme for certification of diamonds from legitimate sources. The initiative would complement the Kimberley process, which was initiated by the South African government and involves other countries, the diamond industry and non-government organisations.

It would also seek to build on the agreement struck by the diamond industry's two biggest associations in Antwerp this week under which only sealed and certified packages of diamonds would be imported or exported world wide.

Although Russia, which is the world's second largest diamond producer, was represented in Antwerp, it struck a cautious tone. Sergei Ouline, the president of the Diamond Chamber of Russia, warned on Tuesday that proposals to clamp down on the "blood" diamonds must not be too bureaucratic or interfere with countries' internal affairs. "If you look at the last six months they've really changed their position," a British official accompanying Mr Blair said last night.

"Everybody's moving in the same direction to build on what the industry's done, on the Kimberley process, and see if we can actually put in place a certification scheme."

With the arrival of the Russian delegation, the summit of the G7 leaders yesterday becomes the G8. The leaders will discuss global issues ranging from the setting of targets to control infectious diseases such as Aids, malaria and tuberculosis, through genetically modified foods to information technology. Mr Blair will offer to host a conference on the drugs trade early next year.

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