G-8 to reinforce fight against crime

By ELIZABETH BRYANT, United Press International  |  May 5, 2003 at 4:07 PM
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PARIS, May 5 (UPI) -- Finance and interior ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized countries agreed Monday to develop common techniques for state-of-the-art passports and identity documents to reduce rampant fraud.

Cooperation on creating futuristic identity papers ranked among the top themes of the daylong, G-8 meeting in Paris, highlighted by the first visit of a Bush administration Cabinet member to France since the Iraq war.

U.S.-French relations remain rocky over France's high-profile opposition to the Iraq conflict.

But despite his presence in Paris, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was missing during an afternoon news conference, off the Champs Elysees. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy offered no explanation although other G-8 ministers were present.

He described relations during the meeting as "the best they could be."

Besides high-tech identity papers, the ministerial meeting focused on ways to jointly fight against terrorism, child pornography, financial crime and other international problems.

"The unanimous conclusion of G-8 members is that the terrorist threat is real, it's always present, and it will be present, unfortunately, for a long time," Sarkozy said. "And that none of us has chosen to lower the guard."

Washington has set an October 2004 deadline to develop a high-tech passport, embedded with futuristic identity mechanisms. Other G-8 members are working to develop similar state-of-the-art systems.

But British Home Secretary David Blunkett urged the group to quickly develop common techniques, or risk slowing international travel and commerce with a hodgepodge of different methods.

"We do need to know where we are going," Blunkett said, "because otherwise the imposition of new surveillance techniques and new requirements -- including by the United States -- will actually have a detrimental affects on the speed of travel, on trade and commercial arrangements."

Ashcroft met later with French Justice Minister Dominique Perben on the status of six French nationals imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. They are among 600 Taliban and al-Qaida suspects detained there without trial since the war in Afghanistan.

Ashcroft travels Tuesday to Lyon for a conference on Iraqi artifacts looted during the latest Gulf conflict.

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