Eight find its good to talk one on one

G7 summit: World leaders gather in Denver to hear Russia's claim to full membership of the world's economic elite

As the last two participants, President Jacques Chirac of France and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, arrived in the mid-Western city of Denver yesterday for the Summit of the Eight, tensions among members and one would-be member of the top countries' economic club were starting to show.

President Bill Clinton, as US host, set the tone for the two-day gathering with an upbeat address on the glowing health of the US economy. However, he could not ignore the misgivings that some of his own countrymen feel about "globalisation" and its potential effect on jobs and wages.

Addressing a live audience, Mr Clinton called on Americans to "reject the false choice between protectionism on the one hand and unlimited free trade - opening our markets with nothing in return - on the other". Protectionism, he said, "is simply not an option because globalisation is irreversible".

The main business, however, was a flurry of bilateral meetings between individual leaders and ministers, where hastily-concluded agreements and unilaterally aired disagreements risked eclipsing the summit.

The disruption caused by the presence of Russia was apparent early.

The Russians had come to Denver with two objectives: to be recognised as a full, permanent member of what they want to be called the "Group of Eight", and provisional agreement that Russia should join the Paris Club of international creditors to enable it to obtain international help in recouping debts from former client states.

The first objective requires agreement from all other members. Russia's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, indicated that Russia was pressing for the opening paragraphs of the final summit communique to acknowledge the Group of Seven industrialised countries was now the Group of Eight.

Opposition comes mainly from Japan. Tokyo's thinking stems from its regional interest in having China as well as Russia play a fuller part in international trade, its feeling that the G7 is an economic group and that Russia's attendance is based on political considerations, and its territorial dispute with Russia about the northern Kurile islands.

The Kurile islands were a central item on the agenda of the Japanese Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, for his working breakfast with President Boris Yeltsin yesterday. But Mr Yastrzhembsky denied speculation in advance of the summit that Russia's stance on the Kuriles was softening.

Mr Yeltsin was due to meet Mr Clinton for lunch, with the issue of Nato enlargement on the agenda, according to the Americans. For the Russians, this subject might come up only "in the context of European security". US officials had expressed concern about Mr Yeltsin's reference to last month's Russia-Nato agreement as "slippery", during a pre-Denver interview.

That agreement, called the Founding Act, was designed to lock Russia into accepting the first stage of Nato enlargement and Mr Yeltsin's sceptical tone, accompanied by an announcement that the Russian leader would "definitely not be going to Madrid" for the Nato summit next month, was seen as betraying a worrying element of Russian petulance.

Face-saving appeared to be at play in an agreement on trade deregulation between the US and Japan. It was presented by the Americans as an "unprecedented" opening of Japanese markets and by the Japan as "just the continuation of an ongoing process".

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