(CBC) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed leaders of the G8 countries to the resort town of Deauville on Thursday, hoping to find consensus on a number of pressing global issues.
Police halted the first of several expected protests while the French leader greeted his counterparts as they arrived in the Normandy town for a working lunch, the first leg of what's shaping up to be a very packed agenda.
In addition to the group discussions, a slew of bilateral talks between two nations are planned. On the sidelines of the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama will hold one-on-one meetings with Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Canada's Stephen Harper.
Harper and Obama will reportedly discuss the next stage of the North American perimeter security agreement.
The prime minister's office says the meeting is likely to result in some forward movement on the agreement, which aims to control, in a consistent manner, who enters and leaves the North American continent. Work on the pact is already underway.
Africa, Mideast On Agenda
Beyond the one-on-one meetings, uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa are sure to feature prominently for the group discussions as a whole.
Interim prime ministers from Tunisia and Egypt, where longtime leaders were pushed out of power earlier this year, will join the summit Friday for a special session aimed at identifying their nations' most critical needs as they move toward elections.
"We've seen a historic transformation underway in some parts of the region and obviously we want to explore ways to support democratic reform and modernization," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told CBC News from France.
The deteriorating security situation in Syria and the NATO-led military mission in Libya will also spark discussion. Obama said Wednesday that the operation has no clear end date, though he contended it ultimately would be successful in stopping Moammar Gadhafi's attacks on civilians.
Critics of the mission say it's already overstepped its mandate to merely protect civilians, and they've pushed for a clearer definition of the ultimate goal.
"There is a continuing disagreement about what, if anything ... the G8 can do to stem the bloodshed in Libya and Syria," Terry Milewski of CBC News reported from France. "There is no consensus on where to go from here. Lots of action, but what comes of it is very uncertain."
The plight of G8 member Japan will also be discussed. Earlier Thursday, Harper met with his Japanese counterpart ahead of the formal start of the summit.
Kan congratulated Harper on his recent election victory and also thanked Canada for its support in the aftermath of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in March.
Harper told Kan that Canada's offer of assistance in helping Japan recover from the disaster still stands.
Canadian officials are also helping the Japanese monitor the fallout from the quake-ravaged Fukushima nuclear plant.
Nuclear safety and Japan's precarious economy are the first subjects up for discussion now that the summit has formally begun.