EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France, June 3 (UPI) -- Leaders from the G8 countries on Tuesday closed their annual meeting with pledges to cooperate on Iraq and the Middle East and upbeat prognoses about the sluggish world economy.
But the three-day retreat at this quiet Lake Geneva resort failed to produce significant progress in matters of preferential trade and aid to Africa or a concrete plan of how to tackle nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea.
And despite a camera-catching, ice-breaking handshake between U.S. President George Bush and summit host French President Jacques Chirac, the memory of past trans-Atlantic divisions over Iraq clearly lingered.
A 4-page, final statement issued the seven industrialized nations, plus Russia, pledged concerted action in matters of boosting economic growth, alleviating famine and water scarcity and combating terrorism, among other areas.
A separate document was also released outlining measures to crack down on nuclear proliferation and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Evian "was a summit of confidence," Chirac said, during a final, late-morning news conference, hailing the overall spirit and final agreement reached without "any real difficulties and divisions."
Chirac also apologized to Swiss citizens for the violent turn of anti-summit demonstrations, which took place in Geneva and Lausanne.
He suggested France may compensate Swiss whose property was damaged during the protests. Local authorities assess the destruction at millions of dollars in Geneva alone.
The French president admitted he was disappointed that key elements of a French-proposed assistance plan for Africa had been rejected in the final communiqué. Africa was the centerpiece of Sunday discussions at Evian, which brought together a dozen developing country leaders, including five African ones.
The United States blocked a proposal to remove domestic subsidies hurting exports from poor countries and the group made only modest progress in other preferential trade for Africa, Chirac said.
An array of nongovernmental organizations sharply criticized summit leaders for offering an inadequate response to poverty, AIDS and problems afflicting poorer nations.
"Today's inaction plan on health is a bitter pill to swallow for people in developing nations," Dr. Jean-Herve Bradol, an official with the Paris-based Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement.
Divisions also surfaced on ways to deal with Iran and North Korea, with Chirac categorically rejecting use of force in dealing with either country.
"This interpretation seems to me extremely presumptuous," he said. "It was never a question of using force against anybody, under any situation."
Later, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien admitted the group was at odds on how to deal with North Korea, in particular.
"It's creating a lot of preoccupation for a lot of people," he said. "We discussed quite candidly how to attack that, with nobody having a very clear answer."
Still, Chretien praised the Evian summit for helping to heal trans-Atlantic differences, noting the atmosphere at the lakeside retreat was markedly more relaxed than a previous world leaders gathering in St. Petersburg, Russia.
And despite the panoply of political and security issues on the table, Chretien said the G8 summit had returned to its original priority -- economic issues.
"What is very encouraging is everybody realizes we have to push in the same direction," Chretien said. "And in different countries, they have some very, very difficult decisions to make."
Nobody is more aware of this than Chirac.
As the French president bid goodbye to six of his counterparts Tuesday afternoon -- Bush left the day before -- tens of thousands of transportation workers picketed across France, in latest protest against government-proposed pension reforms.