TOYAKO, Japan - President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged Tuesday to keep working together on common problems, but progress appeared slow on reaching a consensus on climate change as the Group of Eight major economies tackled that and other knotty global issues.
Merkel expressed optimism as the two leaders met with reporters after a one-on-one meeting before Tuesday's summit session.
"I'm very satisfied with the work that has gone on on the G-8 documents, as regards progress on the issue of climate change, cooperation in the area of food and oil," she said.
She cited "a very interesting exchange of view, very intensive exchange of view." Merkel also said she hoped that international trade negotiators could make progress on restarting long-stalled trade liberalization talks "over the next few weeks to come."
Bush was more terse after the meeting, not mentioning global warming but telling reporters: "We talked about a lot of common problems, and a lot of common opportunities. We talked about the G-8. We talked about the need to work — continue to work together on Iran."
He told Merkel he valued her friendship and advice and called her "a constructive force for good."
The two met just before G-8 members plunged into a discussion about the major problems on the agenda: deciding whether to set new targets for reducing emissions that contribute to global warming, and deciding what to do about rising food and oil prices.
After the morning working session, the leaders began a working lunch — but not before filing outside to pose for a group picture.
They stood on a platform on the lawn of the mountainside resort hotel, with picturesque Lake Toya far below them. It had been rainy and foggy since their meeting began, but the sun began breaking out as the picture was taken. Bush stood between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
The summit partners appeared close to a deal for using international food reserves to help the poorest countries cope with soaring grain prices. But divisions remains on climate change that pitted older, more established economies like those in the Group of Eight with fast rising economies like China and India.
Beyond the climate-change standoff, Bush's proposal to base a missile defense system in Eastern Europe was rebuffed on Monday by Russia's new president, Medvedev. And Bush failed to achieve a consensus among African leaders on sanctions against the government of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe to protest his widely condemned re-election last month after his opposition-party rival dropped out, fearful for his life.
"You know I care deeply about the people of Zimbabwe," Bush told reporters after a Monday meeting with African leaders who were invited to meet with summit partners. "I'm extremely disappointed in the elections, which I labeled a sham election."
Separately, Merkel said earlier that Mugabe's election was not legitimate. "As for us in Germany, we do not rule out further sanctions," she said, adding that many other G-8 nations feel the same way.
But African nations are deeply divided, with many reluctant to put public pressure on Mugabe despite U.N. and Western calls for tough action.
"There were differences. Not all leaders are there yet in terms of sanctions," said Dan Price, a White House national security aide.
The big issue on Tuesday's agenda was climate change. Merkel is one of the G-8's strongest advocates for tough reductions in the emissions that contribute to global warming.
She succeeded in winning Bush's backing last year, when the summit was held in Germany, to a statement pledging that the group would seriously consider a goal of halving greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 — while failing to persuade him to commit to more specific targets.
Now, as then, Bush is insisting that major emerging economies like China and India be included in any plan to cut emissions. But they have so far resisted. Adding to Bush's isolation on the issue, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said G-8 nations must reach agreement among themselves and avoid taking the approach that "I will do nothing unless you do it first," which he called a "vicious circle."
Still, Bush has come a long way since his first G-8 summit when he held that evidence was not conclusive that man's activity contributed to the warming of the Earth's climate.
The G-8 — the U.S., Japan, Russia, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada — takes up the subject in earnest on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the leaders of these countries will be joined by eight other big-polluting "major economy" nations that are not members, including China and India, to see if a wider agreement is possible.
G-8 leaders are mindful that Bush's days in office are numbered — and it seems likely they will await Bush's successor rather than push for a strong commitment now.
Meanwhile, Merkel offered Germany's support for an American initiative for a fund that would "promote climate-friendly technology until a follow-up treaty to the Kyoto Protocol would take effect." That pact, which neither the U.S. nor India nor China has ratified, expires in 2012.
Furthermore, "even a new American administration" is going to insist that any climate agreement entail the principle that emerging economies must contribute to stemming global warming, Merkel said in an interview last week with The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Bush met with Medvedev on Monday. The new Russian president signaled he was no more supportive of Bush's plan to base parts of a missile defense system in eastern Europe than was his mentor, former president — and now prime minister — Vladimir Putin.
While agreeing with Bush on curtailing nuclear weapon capabilities of Iran and North Korea, Medvedev said there were other issues "with respect to European affairs and missile defense where we have differences."
After the talks, a Kremlin aide said Bush and Medvedev made no progress on missile defense.
Sergei Prikhodko said Russia is not yet satisfied with steps the United States has offered to take to ease Moscow's concerns the system would be aimed at weakening Russia's defenses. Medvedev also expressed serious concern about media reports that the U.S. has discussed the possibility of deploying interceptors in Lithuania, if its first choice of basing them in Poland doesn't work out.
Poland's foreign minister was in the United States for talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about Warsaw's latest rebuffs to basing American missile interceptors in Poland for a future missile shield against Iran.
"This is absolutely unacceptable for the Russian Federation," Prikhodko said of the Lithuanian plan. He said Medvedev also spoke to Bush about "the unacceptability" of former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO, a move pushed by the United States.