G8 leaders to eschew virtual summits

 

Every year as the world's most powerful leaders leave their summit, they wonder if there is a more efficient way of hashing out solutions to global troubles.

And each time the Group of Eight leaders decide it is worth braving the protests and the cost that has now mounted to the hundreds of millions of dollars.

There's nothing like looking a president in the eye and pressing the flesh, even if is cheaper to hold a "virtual" summit through videoconferencing - an idea floated briefly this week by France.

"Modern technology will inevitably develop. It costs less, but it has limits," French President Jacques Chirac said on Thursday night at the end of a two-day meeting at the tiny Canadian Rockies resort of Kananaskis, an hour's drive from Calgary.

"Men are men. You don't talk to a screen the same way you talk to a friend or to someone in front of you. Human contact is essential," Chirac said.

This year's G8 chairman, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, held three separate meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin to nail down an agreement worth up to $20 billion (13 billion pounds) that will help Russia get rid of its nuclear weapons.

The leaders or their deputies haggled over language on helping Africa, even if critics argued that their action plan had to be watered down to get everybody on board.

And they examined the hot spots of the day, from the Middle East to dangers in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Was there a way of doing it differently or cheaply? Basically they concluded there wasn't," a Chretien aide said. "They could not have done what they did over the past three days by e-mail."