'Club' to split over Iran

If they can spare any attention from global trade battles, the Balkans and France's decision to resume nuclear tests, leaders of the Group of Seven will want to deal with other equally contentious issues.

The summit opens in the Canadian port of Halifax today and closes after a working lunch on Saturday. The US will want to raise the issue of how the industrialised nations should deal with Iran, accused by the Clinton administration of attempting to acquire a nuclear weapon.

Policy towards Iran is likely to divide the US from the other six member nations - Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. Washington seeks to isolate it economically but the others reject a trade embargo, professing to believe in a "critical dialogue".

The US is also at odds with Russia, taking part in the G7s political discussions, because Moscow plans to sell reactors and civilian nuclear technology to Iran. A key part of the political agenda will be dominated by Russia's relationship with the West and its aspiration to join the G7 "club". Russia's economic plight makes that unlikely for the foreseeable future but G7 leaders have accepted for several years the desirability of bringing Russian leaders into their annual political dialogue.

President Boris Yeltsin's presence at tomorrow's dinner and his participation in talks the next morning will provide a face-to-face opportunity for a frank exchange on Bosnia and security arrangements in Europe.

These topics could well overshadow discussion of reform of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions - the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

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