Japan, Libya to dominate at G8 formin meeting

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - The earthquake disaster in Japan looks set to dominate a Group of Eight foreign ministers meeting this week in Paris as members discuss ways to coordinate help for the only Asian country in the group.

The crisis over Libya will also be a key issue, with the international community seeking to agree on how to stop a violent crackdown in the North African state by leader Muammar Gaddafi's government forces.

Japan was trying on Sunday to avert a disastrous meltdown at two nuclear reactors, crippled by a major earthquake on Friday that caused a tsunami estimated to have killed more than 10,000 people.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe pledged aid to the Japanese, offering expertise in nuclear plant safety and help in clearing up wreckage and finding buried victims. Two rescue teams were preparing to fly to Japan.

Juppe and the other G8 foreign ministers are expected to look to co-ordinate the rescue and aid effort.

"Japan is a historic member of the G8, so we will definitely be showing solidarity," a French diplomatic source said.

Japan's foreign minister is still scheduled to attend the meeting, a Japanese embassy official in Paris said on Sunday.

British Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne said this weekend that a "really big coordinated international response" was needed and that Britain was playing a full part.

The fast-moving situation in Libya is also set to be a focal point for the G8 foreign ministers, the diplomatic source said.

"The current international situation will invite itself onto the programme and the ministers will study the various options (for Libya)," the source said.

Libyan leader Gaddafi's forces appear to have regained the momentum in the three-week-old conflict inspired by popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

Gaddafi's troops forced outgunned Libyan rebels to retreat eastwards on Sunday and laid siege to pockets of resistance, unimpeded by diplomatic efforts to impose a no-fly zone.

Paris has been playing a leading role in the international response to the uprising, especially in its calls with Britain to secure U.N. support for a no-fly zone resolution.

Those calls have met some reluctance from fellow G8 members Russia and the United States as well as non-G8 China. At Friday's EU leaders summit, an airborne military option also appeared to be played down, specifically by Germany.

The United States said this weekend a call by the Arab League for such a no-fly zone was an "important step," but while Washington said it was preparing for "all contingencies" it has remained cautious over endorsing direct military intervention.

"The G8 foreign ministers ... will be an opportunity to widen the international coalition addressing the crisis in Libya," British Foreign Minister William Hague said. "And to reaffirm our collective support for political transition in Egypt and Tunisia."

The two-day event begins informally with the eight ministers meeting President Nicolas Sarkozy at his Elysee Palace on Monday before officially kicking off at 2000 (1900 GMT), and ending the following day around 1500 (1400 GMT).

The talks will also touch on Iran's nuclear programme and at ways to revive the Middle East peace process in preparation for a G8 leaders summit in the northern seaside resort of Deauville at the end of May.

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)