L'Aquila, Italy - The world's greatest powers Friday hailed the United States' return to multilateral power politics as they closed a three-day summit in the Italian city of L'Aquila. The meeting in the earthquake-stricken mediaeval town, hosted by Italy as the current holder of the G8 presidency, was the biggest in the informal group's history.
Alongside the G8 members (Britain, Canada, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US), the leaders of 24 other states, from India and China to Egypt and Brazil, and 10 major international organizations joined the talks.
But it was US President Barack Obama who dominated the summit, his first, as he vowed to return his country to the fold of international cooperation after the confrontational policies of his predecessor, George W Bush.
"I know that in the past the US has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities. Let me be clear: those days are over," Obama said on Thursday.
Fellow leaders praised his leadership, among them Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who was invited as the current holder of the European Union's rotating presidency.
The key decision of the summit was an agreement that world efforts should be directed towards limiting global warming to 2 degrees centigrade above eighteenth-century levels, to prevent catastrophic climate and weather changes around the world.
Leaders said that Obama's support was key to that decision, which reversed the Bush administration's scepticism on climate change.
"There's a great change in US policy compared to the previous administration that turned their back on this problem. Instead, Obama has decided to be at the helm of this movement," said Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the meeting's host.
Leaders also called for a common effort to spend 20 billion dollars on helping farmers in poor countries produce more food in a bid to prevent famine and food riots in developing states.
That, too, was an initiative driven by Obama, along with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.
They further gave their backing to Obama's call, made in May, for a world without nuclear weapons, accepting his invitation to a summit on stopping the spread of nuclear arms in March.
North Korea was condemned for continuing to challenge the West with more nuclear tests and Iran was urged to comply with United Nations resolutions on allowing inspectors into its nuclear programme.
Participants in L'Aquila also set themselves the ambitious goal of reaching a deal on the Doha round of world trade liberalization talks by the end of 2010. That will require the US and India to solve a row over farm imports that torpedoed talks last July.
"For us to get this agreement (on the Doha deadline) ... is a reflection of the policy that the US administration is taking and the willingness of countries like India to come to an agreement," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
Obama even made a splash without having to open his mouth when he shook the hand of Moamer Gaddafi - the first time the Libyan leader has been greeted by a serving US president.
Leaders were at pains to point out that the summit's achievements were down to more than just Obama's reversal of Bush's policies.
"There was the feeling that no country can solve the world's problems alone," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Obama also stressed the importance of cooperation, saying, "The challenges of our time threaten the peace and security of every single nation, and no one nation can meet these challenges alone."
Indeed, Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy both said that the enlarged meeting had proved so useful in moving on world debate on key issues that the G8 should be permanently expanded.
"The G8 is no longer representative enough to answer the financial crisis," Sarkozy said. France will convene a summit of the G14, not the G8, when it holds the G8 presidency in 2011, he said.
As the summit opened, media reports of an Italian organization in disarray, rumbles of scandal concerning Berlusconi's sex life and threats of protests from anti-globalization demonstrators and L'Aquila residents angry at their treatment by the government threatened to mar proceedings.
And despite the sudden departure of Chinese President Hu Jintao, who flew home to deal with ethnic riots in the province of Xinjiang, the meeting was largely judged a moderate success.
The next G8 is scheduled to take place in a year's time in Huntsville, Canada.