World leaders survey return of terror

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Ministers and security chiefs from the seven richest countries in the world, and Russia, will gather in Paris tomorrow for an anti-terrorist conference that has gained sudden and shocking topicality after the TWA explosion and the bomb at the Atlanta Olympics.

The conference began as a political compromise brokered by France two months ago, largely to prevent the terrorist bombing of US troops in Saudi Arabia from dominating the agenda of the G7's summit in Lyon. Squashed into the days before Europe's long summer holiday, it looked likely to be a mere formality.

Now, all those taking part are faced with graphic evidence of the terrorist threat. Not only have the richest and most powerful state in the world and the most heavily guarded international event shown themselves to be vulnerable; there have also been a resurgence of attacks in Northern Ireland and Spain, and a spate of bomb attacks in Moscow. With memories of the gas attack in the Tokyo underground and the bombing campaign in France also still fresh, the pressure will be on to agree specific, enforceable measures.

All eight countries will be represented by their foreign and interior ministers, including Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Howard from Britain, and Yevgeny Primakov - a former security chief and now Foreign Minister - from Russia. Several delegations will also include secret-service chiefs. The only foreign minister missing will be Warren Christopher of the US; the State Department will be represented by one of his deputies, Peter Tarnoff.

The basis of the closed-door discussions will be a document with 40 recommendations "to combat transnational organised crime efficiently". These include ways of tracking criminals across national borders, and a plan to create a central authority in each country to deal with requests for information. There are also proposals for easing extradition in cases of terrorism.

Britain is reported to favour restricting asylum for individuals who use their new base to mount campaigns against their home governments. This could curb the activities of people such as the Saudi dissident Mohammed al-Masari.

While international co-operation against terrorism is seen to have improved in recent years, exchange of information is a sensitive matter. Disputes about the Schengen treaty on open borders and security co-operation in Europe have exposed some of the difficulties. While Britain simply refused to join, France - which both signed and ratified the treaty - still does not implement it fully, because of conflicts with the Netherlands over drugs policy and with Italy over border security.

Easing extradition is even more contentious. Sending Eta terrorists from France to Spain, and alleged IRA members from the US to Britain, may have become slightly easier - but procedural differences and national political sympathies frequently dog the process, even before the question of human rights enters the equation.