Stabilizing Afghanistan, Averting Oil Crisis Top G-8 Agenda

Foreign ministers from wealthy nations urged Afghanistan's neighbors Thursday to play "a constructive role" in stabilizing the war-wracked nation and help it overcome the challenges of terrorism, insecurity and drug production.

A joint statement on Afghanistan, issued after a dinner opening a two-day meeting of ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations, also pledged a long-term commitment to support Kabul and urged the government to assume greater responsibility for its own security.

The session in the western Japanese city of Kyoto focused on the central Asian nation Thursday, though international attention was riveted by North Korea's long-awaited declaration of its nuclear weapons programs in Beijing.

The G-8 conference, which ends Friday afternoon, was also to include discussions on Iran's uranium enrichment program, the furor over Zimbabwe's presidential run-off election, and the troubled Middle East peace process.

Ministers from the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Russia and Canada on Thursday focused on efforts to stabilize Afghanistan's lawless frontier regions where terrorists and drug-traffickers operate with impunity.

"We agreed to step up support for tribal groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas," said Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told reporters, saying the ministers also endorsed some 150 development projects in those areas worth about US$4 billion.

In a joint statement, the ministers urged countries bordering Afghanistan — including Pakistan and Iran — to also help Kabul.

"We call on Afghanistan's neighbors to play a constructive role for the stability of Afghanistan," they said in a statement. "We particularly encourage Afghanistan and Pakistan to continue their cooperation in a constructive and mutually beneficial manner."

Japan has been eager to promote discussion of Afghanistan, where it has pledged US$2 billion in aid. Fighting between Taliban-led insurgents and foreign and government forces has been surging across the south and east of the country, with nearly 2,000 people killed in insurgency-related violence so far in 2008.

The ministers also urged Kabul to assume a greater role in securing its territory — which in many areas is under the control of warlords — and step up the battle against drug trafficking, particularly the cultivation of opium poppy.

"Unless we win this war on terror ... both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly in the border regions, the international community will not feel safe," said Kazuo Kodama, spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

The statement came after Pakistan's new government gave its strongest commitment yet on containing Islamic militancy, vowing to prevent attacks on Afghanistan but insisting foreign forces would not be allowed to operate on Pakistani soil.

The focus on Afghanistan in Kyoto was overshadowed by action by North Korea. Pyongyang on Thursday handed over a declaration of its nuclear programs and activities, a milestone immediately followed by Washington saying it will lift some trade sanctions and move to take Pyongyang off its terrorism blacklist.

G-8 foreign ministers also discussed Myanmar, which over the past year has been gripped first by pro-democracy protests and then by a disastrous cyclone.

The G-8 pledged to continue aid for reconstruction, but called on the Myanmar junta to improve transparency in its receipt of international help, Kodama said. The ministers also urged further steps toward opening up politically.

Several of the ministers also commented on the need for a coordinated global effort to keep oil and food prices from rising further, but did not offer specific proposals on how to do so, Japanese officials said.

Iran's nuclear ambitions were also expected to be on the agenda in Kyoto. The European Union froze the assets this week of Iran's largest bank over Tehran's refusal to back off uranium enrichment, which Washington and its allies worry could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran has yet to formally respond to a package of trade and economic incentives to make a deal. The offers were made June 14 by the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany.

On Zimbabwe, whose President Robert Mugabe is facing international isolation amid demands he postpone a runoff presidential election because of violence, the ministers said a legitimate government must be allowed to take power, Japanese officials said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.