ROME - Big-power foreign ministers spend a second day on Thursday focusing on escalating Middle East violence, signalling mounting concern at events there.
Group of Eight ministers have put the crisis firmly at the top of their agenda for talks in Rome that pave the way for their heads of governments' annual summit this weekend in Genoa.
But on Thursday the ministers from the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia will also turn to arms proliferation before drawing up a statement to prime their leaders, which will touch on many issues.
Controversial U.S. plans for a missile defence system will loom large in the final day of talks, delegation sources said, but may be mentioned only in couched terms.
"There is a very wide consensus among us that time is slipping away," Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero said of the Middle East crisis.
He confirmed ministers would spend more time on Thursday discussing the region after Israel bolstered its forces in the West Bank in an apparent warning to President Yasser Arafat.
The ministers will hold a final news conference at midday (1000 GMT).
"The communique could well contain strong words on the need to curb violence (in the Middle East)," one delegation source said.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said he and his colleagues agreed that Israelis and Palestinians had to begin implementing a "truce-to-peacemaking" blueprint proposed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell.
MISSILE DEFENCE IN CODE
Senior officials said any wording in the communique about missile defence would be heavily coded. The phrase may not appear at all. But it will be discussed. "Everyone's positions are well known and there has been little or no movement," one G8 source said.
The U.S. missile plan featured high in bilateral talks between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who had a working breakfast on Wednesday.
Ivanov told a news conference that Russia wanted more clarity on a new strategic framework, including missile defence, but said Moscow was willing to carry on talking. Powell said Washington would clarify its concept "in the very near future".
Britain is broadly behind the U.S. plan, France and Germany have called for more details, while Italy's new centre-right Defence Minister Antonio Martino has warmly embraced it.
ENVIRONMENT ISSUES ABSENT
Also missing from the statement will be any mention of climate change and U.S. President George Bush's refusal to sign up to the Kyoto protocol on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The ministers have not tackled the subject. One G8 source said the thorny issue, now under discussion by environment ministers in Bonn, may not even feature explicitly at Genoa, although heavy discussions were expected.
Matters discussed on Wednesday which will be referred to in the final statement include Macedonia, where leaders of the ethnic majority on Wednesday denounced a Western peace plan as a brutal interference.
Italy's Ruggiero, stressing a theme the Italian hosts want to highlight at the Genoa summit, said G8 leaders would also focus on African issues such as conflict resolution, the scourge of HIV/AIDS and development measures such as debt relief.