G8 speakers' summit upstaged

by Eric Johnston

HIROSHIMA — Lower house speakers from the Group of Eight nations promised Tuesday to strengthen efforts to uphold and reinforce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which comes up for review in 2010.

But despite lofty promises of unity in support of long-term nonproliferation efforts, the Hiroshima meeting was marked by political divisions over clashes between Russia and Georgia, as well as concerns over a nuclear deal between the United States and India.

“There were strong statements from several speakers that we needed to uphold and reinforce the (nuclear) nonproliferation regime,” said Lower House Speaker Yohei Kono at a wrap-up news conference Tuesday evening.

Kono admitted there were heated discussions over the growing crisis stemming from Russia’s recognition of the two breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a move that angered Washington and many in Europe. On Monday and Tuesday, Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov met on the sidelines with his French and German counterparts to discuss the situation, but no headway was made.

“Each country presented its views on the question of Georgia. Some said that Georgia’s territorial integrity must be respected, while others said it was important to look into the historical issues,” said Kono, referring to the opposing stances of the U.S. and Russia.

Monday, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba pleaded with G8 leaders to eliminate nuclear weapons, which he said was their obligation and within their power to do. But survivors of the Hiroshima A-bomb blast were concerned about the lack of political will at the national government level, especially in the United States and Russia, which together possess about 95 percent of the world’s atomic weapons.

Over the past few years, local government officials at thousands of cities throughout the G8 countries have passed resolutions calling for the abolition of all nuclear weapons by 2020.

“The question is, to what extent can lower house speakers carry out pledges and promises (regarding disarmament)?” asked Akihiro Takahashi, an A-bomb survivor who met with the speakers Tuesday morning. “A vague conclusion about the importance of getting rid of nuclear weapons makes this summit meaningless.”

Two months ago, when the G8 leaders met in Hokkaido, antinuclear groups invited the heads of state to visit Hiroshima as well, but none did.

While many world leaders have visited Hiroshima over the years, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is now the highest-ever sitting U.S. official to pay her respects.

Japanese government officials touted the presence of Pelosi and Gryzlov as indicative of the importance of the Hiroshima meeting. And Fukuda’s sudden resignation Monday left some G8 delegates wondering what will become of Japan’s efforts to promote nonproliferation.

“With the prime minister’s quitting and (a) Lower House (election) probably taking place within the next few months, you have to wonder if the next prime minister and Cabinet will be as supportive of disarmament issues as the Fukuda Cabinet,” said one concerned European official, speaking anonymously.

With the exception of a lone Buddhist monk who briefly unfurled a Tibetan flag in Hiroshima Peace Park, the G8 lower house speakers’ summit was free of protest rallies and of the heavy police presence seen at the Hokkaido summit.

However, one issue that activists pushed was Japan’s failure to ratify the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.