U.S. President Bill Clinton has only himself to blame for the lack of enthusiasm his G7 partners displayed over his call for ``strong sanctions" against such states as Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan, which sponsor terrorism.
At a one-day summit in Paris that wrapped up Tuesday, the foreign and interior ministers of Russia and the world's most industrialized nations met to establish a common front in the fight against international terrorism. The pressure on them to take action was even greater in light of the recent bombing at the Atlanta Olympics and the suspicious downing of a TWA airliner off New York.
In the end, however, U.S. officials did not pursue the president's proposal, in order to avoid a rift with European partners who had openly indicated they weren't interested in sanctions.
It's a shame trade sanctions weren't even given a chance -- but not surprising.
Instead of the G7 partners co-operatively hammering out some kind of joint action, the menacing shadow of Helms-Burton spread over the meeting. This odious U.S. law would punish foreign companies ``trafficking" in confiscated U.S. assets in Cuba. A smaller shadow was cast by the son of Helms-Burton, known as the D'Amato bill (named after another senator). This bill allows the U.S. to take unilateral action against companies doing business with Iran and Libya, so-called outlaw states sponsoring terrorism.
The Europeans (like the Canadians) have been so infuriated by the extraterritorial nature of these pieces of legislation that they (like the Canadians) have adopted legislation designed to counter the U.S.'s. In fact, the European Commission approved the measures on the same day as the Paris summit.
Despite the inaction on sanctions however, the summiteers did manage to agree on a 25-point plan to fight global terrorism. The package includes sharing best practices between countries (i.e. Canada has expertise in the area of fraudulent documentation and passports); reinforcing police co-operation and training; sharing intelligence information; improving extradition and legal assistance; making it more difficult for terrorists to raise funding, etc.
Practical steps such as these can work. The G7 showed in 1978 that it could take effective action when at the Bonn summit leaders moved quickly to establish specific measures designed to stamp out hijackings. Severe prison sentences and tough sanctions against countries that aid hijackers have significantly reduced hijackings.
French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette said after the summit that its leaders "are strongly determined to act shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand." Clearly the most important weapon in the battle against terrorism is a united front.
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