Blair, on European tour, seeks Russia's support for G8 agenda
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was seeking Russia's support for his Group of Eight summit agenda, as he kicked off a frantic two-day swing through four European capitals amidst a mood of crisis within the European Union.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was hosting Blair at his dacha outside Moscow, with the Gleneagles summit of the world's leading industrial nations on July 6-8 foremost on their agenda, British officials said.
Later in the day, Blair was to travel to Berlin for dinner with Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, before proceeding Tuesday to Paris to see French President Jacques Chirac.
Both of those hot-button issues will loom large when EU leaders, including Blair, gather in Brussels on Thursday for their quarterly two-day summit.
With many EU observers predicting a Franco-British row over the rebate and EU farm subsidies, a spokesman for Blair insisted that the prime minister's tour remains principally focused on Gleneagles.
"This is first and foremost a pre-G8 visit," he told reporters travelling with Blair. "What we're doing is going around the members of the G8, preparing the agenda for Gleneagles on Africa and climate change."
Just last week Blair was in Washington to swap notes with US President George W. Bush; he is also planning to speak by phone with Japan's prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and Canadian counterpart Paul Martin.
British officials were upbeat about the Moscow leg of Blair's tour, not least after G8 finance ministers agreed Saturday to a historic deal to wipe clean the multilateral debt of 18 poor nations in Africa and Latin America.
Ending chronic poverty in Africa is one of Blair's pet concerns for Gleneagles, along with real progress on confronting climate change despite Washington's refusal to embrace the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas emissions.
"Russia's signing up to Kyoto was an important moment," Blair's spokesman said. "We believe they recognise the need for action (on climate change) and will be an important part of it."
"In terms of Africa, we believe that the Russians have an important role in terms of urging on others to sign up to what we're trying to achieve."
Blair's spokesman also recalled Russia's support for US and EU efforts to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, and on implementing democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Russia's own fledgling democracy, the spokesman said Moscow recognises "the need to reassure the rest of the world that the movement for democracy continues, that they are addressing human rights concerns, and that they are also addressing the concerns of investors".