SEA ISLAND, Ga. – The United States and its biggest allies are proclaiming that a unanimous U.N. vote will heal their bitter divisions over Iraq (search). But the newfound unity faces a major test when they take up a U.S. plan to expand the push for democracy throughout the Arab world.
But significantly, the four G-8 nations that have refused to send troops to Iraq — Russia, France, Germany and Canada — said the U.N. Security Council (search) resolution did not change their opposition to putting troops in the country.
A resigned Bush said, "I expect nations will contribute as they see fit."
Massive security kept the handful of anti-globalization protesters far away from the exclusive barrier island resort where this year's G-8 summit was taking place.
The G-8 leaders were confronting an array of topics on their second day of talks Wednesday, starting with threats to the global economy, such as the spike in oil prices.
Many allies see America's soaring budget and trade deficits as equally threatening to world prosperity. But administration officials say Bush will defend his tax cuts as the critical ingredient to jump-start the U.S. and world economies.
Bush will also cite his pledge to cut the federal budget deficit in half over the next five years.
The world leaders were meeting over lunch with the leaders of six Middle Eastern nations in a discussion aimed at boosting Bush's initiative to promote freedom, democracy and economic growth throughout the Middle East. Bush hopes the plan will emerge as the central achievement of the summit.
But the plan has stirred deep suspicion in the region, home to some of the world's most authoritarian regimes. Many Arab and European countries view the proposal as unwanted meddling. And three Arab countries — Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco — turned down Bush's invitation to participate.
The U.S. cause in the Arab world has not been helped by Bush's support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor by the worldwide uproar over the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
But after weeks of bad news on Iraq, the administration was heartened by Tuesday's unanimous U.N. Security Council vote to approve a resolution endorsing the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq's new interim government by the end of June.
Bush said the resolution would prove to be a "catalyst for change."
Other G-8 leaders expressed hope the vote, which came after the United States and Britain revised the proposal to meet other countries' concerns, would represent a new era of cooperation on Iraq.
"We all now want to put the divisions of the past behind us and unite behind the vision of a modern, democratic and stable Iraq," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's closest ally on Iraq.
Even foes of the U.S.-led war such as French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke hopefully of a new era of cooperation. Putin said the U.N. vote would produce "a quality change in the status of Iraq."
On the broader Middle East initiative, the G-8 was expected to endorse a scaled-down version of the U.S. plan. One European official stressed it left plenty of room for countries to choose their own preferred methods to promote reforms. The declaration also does not require any specific financial contributions.
"The value of the declaration is the fact that all countries of the G-8 commit themselves to provide support, if requested, to the countries of the region in different ways," said Stefano Sannino, diplomatic adviser to the European Union.
The Bush administration, eager to fend off Democratic challenger John Kerry's charges that the president has badly harmed U.S. relations with allies, worked to get agreements on initiatives expected to be approved in the next two days. These included:
— Support to provide training and equipment for more than 50,000 peacekeepers over the next five years to deal with trouble spots such as Africa. The administration is offering $660 million to support the plan.
— Endorsement of efforts to promote small businesses in developing countries to generate economic growth.
— A joint effort to lower the costs to immigrants who send money back to relatives in developing countries. The flow of these "remittances" totals an estimated $100 billion annually — double the amount of foreign aid provided by wealthy nations — and is seen as a key to stimulating economic growth.