Berlusconi hosts G8 amid sex scandal

ROME, July 2 (UPI) -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, troubled by a sex scandal at home, is trying to boost his international profile with busy diplomacy ahead of next week's Group of Eight summit.

Iran, climate change, the financial crisis, international trade, the conflict in the Middle East, the West's relations with Russia -- the list of issues that will be discussed at the July 8-10 G8 summit in the earthquake-battered Italian city of L'Aquila is long.


But so far, they have not managed to stop discussions about the premier's sexist missteps: his tendency to hand beautiful young women political posts and his alleged party with prostitutes during the night of the U.S. presidential elections.

After Berlusconi's wife announced that she would divorce him, his approval ratings have dropped by 2 points to 49 percent -- granted, still more than most Western leaders.

But critics have asked whether the domestic sex scandal may hurt the premier's credibility and his position to lead diplomacy at the upcoming summit.

Portraying his infamous self-confidence, Berlusconi said earlier this week he was still the most popular leader in the Western world, adding that the G8 would be a diplomatic success. And indeed, the Italian has done a few things right lately: At a meeting of the NATO-Russia council this past weekend in Corfu, Greece, Berlusconi managed to convince both powers to resume military ties frozen after Russia's 2008 war with Georgia.


The G8 leaders will discuss possible sanctions against Iran, Berlusconi revealed. While Italy has close trade ties with Iran, Rome has been swift to condemn the post-election violence against the Iranian opposition.

The Middle Eastern conflict will be on the agenda, and Berlusconi sees himself as somewhat of a mediator between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, although relations with Washington got off to a rocky start when it was reported that Berlusconi commented on the president's "suntan."

Berlusconi has been eager to revive Africa's ties with the West and has met frequently with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi over the past months. Gadhafi will join the G8 summit on July 10.

China, Brazil, Mexico, India and South Africa will also be represented at the summit, but experts say the growing importance of these emerging economies makes them more than visitors -- especially when it comes to dealing with the financial crisis. The G8, many people say, is a remnant of the past.

"The Western industrialized nations have no justification to remain among themselves," Milena Elsinger, a globalization expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said in a statement.

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