United at the summit

Brian D. Johnson May 19 1986

United at the summit

Brian D. Johnson May 19 1986

United at the summit


Behind bulletproof windows overlooking a Japanese garden, they assembled to fortify the world’s industrial democracies. And by the end of last week’s three-day summit at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, leaders of seven nations —the United States, Britain, France, West Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada—had agreed to form a united front against forces that threaten their stability, from international terrorism to the fluctuations of world currencies. Only three weeks after the U.S. bombing of Libya drove a wedge between the United States and some European allies, the leaders struck chords of surprising harmony. U.S. President Ronald Reagan and French President François Mitterrand, both veterans of six of the rotating annual meetings, said Tokyo’s was by far the smoothest. Concluded British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher after her seventh summit: “Mission accomplished.” And Prime Minister Brian Mulroney asserted that Canada took “a major step forward” at the second summit he has attended by winning an expanded role in co-ordinating economic policy with other summit countries.

But despite the cheerful unanimity, the air outside the stone walls of the Akasaka Palace was filled with portents of the world’s ills. As a gentle radioactive rain showered Tokyo with low-level fallout from the previous week’s Soviet nuclear power plant explosion, local terrorists tried to disrupt the summit’s opening. Although their aim was poor, their timing was ceremonially precise: 15 minutes before Reagan was due to be greeted at the palace, five homemade rockets sailed over the

roof and landed nearby without causing injuries. One tore into the pavement beside the Canadian Embassy. The terrorists—believed to be members of Japan’s radical left-wing Chukaku-Ha (Middle Core Faction) grouplater punctuated the final day of the summit by setting off firecrackers and smoke bombs in 22 subway and train stations around the Japanese capital.

But it appeared that nothing could shake the jaunty optimism of the leaders—and the harmless explosions served only to dramatize their display of political resolve.

Although the Tokyo meeting was billed as an economic summit, politics overshadowed economics—and terrorism became the most contentious issue. After persistent arm-twisting, Reagan emerged with a clear victory by persuading his allies to adopt a declara-

tion specifically mentioning Libya as a supporter of international terrorism. Both the host, Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, and France’s Mitterrand were wary of singling out Libya for fear of jeopardizing their relations with Arab states. But Reagan, backed by Mulroney and Thatcher, prevailed: Libya was the only nation cited in a summit document condemn-

ing the “blatant and cynical” use of terror “as an instrument of government policy.” U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz hailed the declaration as a direct hit against Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy. Said Shultz: “The document sent the message: ‘You’ve had it, pal. You are isolated. You are recognized as a terrorist.’ ” Echoing Shultz’s enthusiasm, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark called the declaration “a turning point in

the war against terrorism.”

The declaration called for a series of antiterrorist measures, including a ban on arms sales to proterrorist states, visa restrictions and improved procedures for extraditing terrorist suspects. “Terrorism,” said the joint statement, “must be fought effectively through determined, tenacious, discreet and patient action combining national measures with international cooperation.” But the day after the summit ended, West Berlin security officials cast doubt on the decision by the seven leaders to single out Libya. A Jordanian and a Palestinian arrested in connection with the April 5 bombing of the La Belle discotheque in West Berlin told police that they obtained explosives for an earlier Berlin bombing from Syria’s embassy in East Berlin. One suspect, Ahmed Hazi, was reported to have received his training in Syria, according to officials, who also said they believed Syria was implicated in the disco raid. But in justifying his retaliatory raid on Libya last month,

Reagan claimed there was conclusive evidence that Libya’s East Berlin embassy had arranged the disco bombing.

Still, by citing Libya “in particular” as a sponsor of terrorism— though not calling for economic sanctions—the summit gave Reagan symbolic support in his antiterrorist crusade.

The United States also scored a victory in connection with the April 26 Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Soviet Union. The summit issued a statement calling for an international convention that would require countries to exchange information in the event of a nuclear accident. Among most summit leaders, there was reluctance to mention the Soviet Union’s delay in communicating detailed information about the Chernobyl disaster to the world. But at the U.S. President’s insistence, the communiqué specifically urged “the Soviet Union, which did not do so in the case of Chernobyl, to provide urgently such information as our and other countries have requested.” Another leader pressing the nuclear issue was West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl who, despite a decidedly

subdued presence at three previous summits, was seen as one of the dominant figures at the Tokyo meeting. Kohl lined up summit leaders behind his demands for a convention of minimum safeguards on atomic power plants. And according to observers, the West German chancellor also exercised a decisive influence in shaping economic programs at the summit. Said one U.S. diplomat: “The Germans had a natural authority in Tokyo because they are the only ones who have got almost everything right in economic terms and can argue on the basis of almost perfect figures.”

And beyond the summit’s dramatic political declarations, economic issues were a serious priority—especially for Canada and Italy. In a hairsplitting compromise designed to allay com-

plaints from the two countries over their exclusion from pivotal decisions between annual summits, the other five leaders agreed to create a new league of finance ministers called the Group of Seven (G-7) to co-ordinate economic policies. But the compromise deal generated confusion, because the leaders also decided to retain the existing Group of Five (G5)—while promising to invite Canada and Italy to join in discussions when

key monetary changes were planned.

Initially, Mulroney and Italy’s Prime Minister Bettino Craxi had pressed for the straightforward expansion of G5—the finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the United States, Britain, France, West Germany and Japan—to include the Canadian and Italian representatives. The excluded summit members argued that they were affected by decisions of the Group of Five, which has been meeting regularly and often secretively to realign currency exchange values affecting trade and interest rates. But Britain, France and West Germany argued that G-5 should be retained to focus on policy involving the five major trading currencies. The compromise followed an Italian threat to stop participating in the summit—a tactic that Mulroney

did not endorse. The new G-7 grouping of ministers will meet at least once a year to review, and possibly adjust, mutual policies designed to promote trade and stable economic growth without inflation. Despite some confusion about the respective roles of G-5 and G7, Mulroney expressed pleasure over the compromise. Said Mulroney: “We felt that Canada, because of its strength and its reputation and its reliability, had earned its stripes and ought to be in.” However, Mulroney was less successful in his other mission at the summit —defending Canada against the threat of an agricultural trade war. Government subsidies for farm products in Europe and the United States have had the effect of reducing world grain prices, making it harder for Canadian producers and other exporters to compete for foreign markets. The final communiqué is-

sued by the seven leaders offered no solutions to the problem. But Mulroney, who was largely responsible for raising the issue, considered it a victory merely to discuss the subject. Said Mulroney: “For the first time as a group, the heads of government focused on the paradox of preaching freer trade while pumping billions of dollars into subsidies for agriculture.” In addition to voicing Canadian interests, Mulroney distinguished him-

self from the other summit leaders by his outgoing, even jocular, behavior. While waiting for the first official meeting of the seven leaders to begin, he spent 30 minutes bantering with the press corps. At one point his behavior elicited a frown from Thatcher and an amused look from West Germany’s Kohl. Mulroney addressed Reagan as “Ron” and Thatcher as “Margaret” in public and before television cameras. And at the welcoming ceremonies for Canada, he threw an arm around Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. Japanese officials laughed nervously and said later that such a gesture was unheard of at a formal event in Japan. But others made protocol slips as well: at a Japanese-style luncheon, kimono-clad waitresses were reportedly shocked when several leaders failed to remove their shoes before entering the dining room.

Although the summit grappled with serious issues, it also served as a social and ceremonial occasion. It concluded with a state banquet at the Imperial Palace of 86-year-old Emperor Hirohito, who is in the 60th year of his reign. The guests sipped alcoholic beverages from all seven summit countries, including Seagrams Crown Royal Canadian rye whisky. But if there was any hangover the morning after, it was political—and Japan’s. Nakasone, whose Liberal Democratic party faces a parliamentary election before his term ends in November, failed to achieve key Japanese objectives while he played a conciliatory role as the summit chairman. Japan was unable to convince the other nations to help curb the steady rise in the exchange value of the yen, which is placing a strain on exports and threatens the country with an economic slowdown.

While television cameras filmed the leaders tossing bread to carp in the Akasaka Palace’s ornamental pool, downtown Tokyo was locked in the grip of the heaviest security that the city had seen since U.S. forces occupied it at the end of the Second World War. Including the costs of 30,000 police to guard the seven heads of government, Japan spent a total of $140 million to stage the summit. And even though nobody was injured, the crude terrorist rocket attacks that opened the summit proceedings and other potentially dangerous explosions that marked its ending caused the host government to lose face. Those menacing episodes, and Japan’s setbacks at the summit, also exposed the vulnerability of the world’s richest industrial democracies even as their leaders sought to demonstrate their strength in unity.