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G8 should discuss Russia's backyard -US official

By Staff
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MOSCOW, Apr 19 (Reuters) Washington wants to include ex-Soviet Belarus, Georgia and Moldova on the G8 agenda this year, a senior US official said today, unveiling a proposal likely to cause friction with Moscow.

Russia and the United States have sharply different approaches on all three countries. Moscow sees those states as inside its own sphere of influence and has resisted outside involvement.

US Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said he proposed the three be added to the G8 agenda when he met officials from the other G8 member countries in Moscow.

Russia is chairing the group of rich nations for the first time this year. Russian officials gave no immediate reaction to Burns's suggestion.

''On the agenda we suggested today, for the first time, should be these ... issues pertaining to conflicts very close to Russia's borders,'' Burns told a news briefing.

The formal G8 agenda Russia has put forward does not include a specific mention of the three countries.

Washington says Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is the last dictator in Europe. Russia is his closest ally and congratulated him on his victory in an election last month that Europe and Washington said was rigged.

''ANTI-DEMOCRATIC ELECTION'' ''Today a number of countries raised the fact that it is important for us to discuss Belarus in the G8 context.

''My country, my government and most other governments around the table believe that what Lukashenko did was to conduct an anti-democratic election,'' said Burns.

On Georgia and Moldova, Washington is pushing peace plans that would allow them to re-integrate separatist regions.

Russia does not support those plans and is accused by the Western-leaning governments in Georgia and Moldova of backing the separatists, though it denies that.

''We said that there should be an opportunity for the G8 to help the Georgian government in its peace plan for South Ossetia as well as its efforts to reach out to the Abkhaz,'' Burns said, referring to Georgia's two separatist territories.

He said he wanted the G8 to discuss a peace plan for Moldova that would involve Russian forces -- who say they are there to keep the peace -- pulling out of the separatist Dnestr region.

Burns said Washington also wanted a conflict between two other ex-Soviet states, Azerbaijan and Armenia, discussed by the G8. They fought a war in the 1990s over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory and the conflict is still unresolved.

The United States and France, with Russia, are already mediators in that conflict. Including it on the G8 agenda is therefore likely to be less sensitive for Russia.

REUTERS PG PM0013

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