Summit condemns 'barbarous' attack

G7 in Lyons: French keep Saudi attack on separate agenda

MARY DEJEVSKY

Lyons

Leaders of the world's seven richest nations pledged last night to unite their efforts tocombat terrorism and agreed to hold a ministerial meeting next month in Paris to discuss specific measures.

In an official statement, issued after the dinner inaugurating their annual summit inLyons, the Group of Seven industrialised countries condemned "the barbarous and unjustified" attack on US servicemen in Saudi Arabia earlier this week and expressed "total solidarity with the United States and Saudi Arabia".

The statement said that tragedies such as the killing at Dhahran "only strengthen our conviction that terrorism constitutes a major challenge for the security of all our societies and states".

The decision to call a meeting of ministers next month suggested that the host country, France, had resisted moves by the US to make the summit "an anti-terrorist summit" and had managed to save the original agenda, which includes subjects such as third world aid and employment which are dear to the French president, Jacques Chirac.

Earlier in the day, President Clinton, looking uncharacteristically tired and drawn, had described terrorism as "the security challenge of the 21st century" and called for the summit to concentrate on terrorism. It had earlier been announced that he was bringing forward his planned departure from France to Saturday evening, to attend Sunday church services in Florida with families of the dead servicemen.

The decision to address terrorism at a separate forum also removes a factor that could have complicated discussion of the controversial new US legislation, the Helms-Burton law, which has already become a major point of discord at this summit. Europe accuses the US of trying to exercise extraterritorial authority by threatening to punish not just US companies that trade with Cuba, but foreign companies as well.

Yesterday, in a significant toughening of the opposition to the law, President Chirac threatened that Europe could consider retaliatory measures if Washington persisted in applying the law, while Canada joined Europe in expressing its strong opposition, leaving the US effectively isolated.

Although US spokesmen denied that Washington had any intention of changing the legislation, both the president of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, and senior French officials suggested that Washington recognised that the law presented a problem and might be prepared to soften it.

In a pre-emptive move, Mr Santer obliquely warned the US against trying to use the Dhahran attack as justification either for the Helms-Burton law as it stands, or for its possible extension to Iran and Libya.

In a statement forcefully condemning the latest attack, he said: "In clear cases where countries fund, promote or harbour terrorists, and if all the signs show that negotiation and dialogue will not work, then the international community must act, if necessary through sanctions." He went on: "In such cases we must be careful to ensure that the punishment hits the criminal and fits the crime." He subsequently defended the EU's policy towards Iran, where it supports what he called "critical dialogue".

The growing pressure on the US over the Helms-Burton law adds to the differences that exist among the G7 countries, especially on economic topics, as they go into their first full day of discussions today.

While a joint economic statement existed in draft, the question of employment divided countries like the US and Britain with more free-market labour policies, and lower unemployment, from those like France and Italy where labour is more protected, and unemployment is higher.

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