Leaders of the world's major powers gather on Germany's Baltic coast on Wednesday for a G8 summit likely to be dominated by US-Russia tensions and wrangling over global warming.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, chairing the annual meeting as president of the Group of Eight (G8), is due to lunch with US President George W. Bush and then meet Russia's Vladimir Putin before hosting a reception and dinner for the leaders and their spouses.
On the eve of the meeting, Bush criticised Russia on democracy, escalating a war of words with Putin that Merkel fears could overshadow other themes like climate change and aid for Africa.
In Russia reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development," Bush said on a visit to Prague, before flying to Heiligendamm, a seaside resort founded in 1793 as an exclusive summer spa for European nobility.
Differences between Washington and Russia centre on US plans to deploy parts of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moscow is also resisting a push by Washington and European countries to grant independence to the breakaway Serbian province Kosovo.
Leaders from the G8 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- are expected to discuss other foreign policy issues including Iran's nuclear program, Sudan and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
HOPE FOR CLIMATE PROGRESS
On climate, Merkel had hoped to get the G8 to agree to a goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.
Convincing the United States to back such firm targets now looks impossible, but the summit could end up sending a strong signal about leaders' desire to come up with a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate deal which runs until 2012.
Climate change proposals from Bush last week had sowed fears in Europe that Washington would go outside the well-established United Nations process to curb the emissions that scientists say will swell sea levels and cause droughts and floods.
But both US and German officials expressed confidence ahead of the summit that a common approach would be found.
"There has been significant movement from the American government and also the Chinese," Merkel's chief of staff Thomas de Maiziere told Reuters in an interview.
"For that reason, I believe we will get results that go far beyond what we saw at the G8 summit in 2005 in Britain and which strengthen international agreement under the UN umbrella."
At a summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, two years ago, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was unable to get Bush to compromise on climate, producing a watered-down statement that fell far short of target.
In an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper on the eve of the summit, Blair said he was convinced that he could persuade Bush to sign up to a "substantial cut" in greenhouse gas emissions, in line with UN-backed targets.
The world's top industrial powers first gathered in 1975 in Rambouillet, France, to coordinate economic policy following a global oil crisis and the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates.
Recently, the club has come under pressure to adapt to shifts in the global economic balance. Merkel has invited leaders from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa to address those concerns.
A number of African leaders have also been invited for an "outreach" session on Friday. It was unclear on the eve of the summit whether G8 countries would make ambitious pledges on development aid and AIDS funding for Africa.
Some 16,000 security personnel are in the area for the summit. The leaders will be shielded from thousands of demonstrators by a 12-km (7.5-mile) fence topped with barbed wire.
Almost 1,000 people were injured on Saturday when violence broke out at an anti-G8 protest in the nearby city of Rostock.