The world's richest nations took a swipe at Japan, imposed sanctions on Serbia, warned the United States to keep an eye on its economy and touched on Middle East peace Saturday, all part of a warm-up exercise for next week's eight-nation summit in Birmingham.

Foreign and finance ministers from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan and Russia came together for two days to narrow the focus for their bosses, who hold their annual economic summit next week.In the most sweeping action, five of the six nations that make up the Contact Group for the Balkans decided to freeze funds held abroad by the Yugoslav and Serbian governments and to stop all new investment in Serbia - the latest in a series of sanctions trying to get talks started in the increasingly violent Serbian province of Kosovo.

Serbia and the smaller Montenegro are the two republics that make up what remains of the former Yugoslavia.

All the ministers expressed their concern over the bloodshed, rejecting both "excessive use of force" by Serb-dominated government forces and "terrorism and the supply of arms to terrorists" among the ethnic Albanians, who represent 90 percent of Kosovo's population.

Russia, long an ally of the Serbs, disassociated itself from the sanctions, although it continues to press Belgrade.

Said French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine: "No country believes the status quo is tolerable."

All eight countries expressed concern at the lack of progress in the Middle East, particularly in view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal so far to accept American conditions for continuation of the peace talks.

But, said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "I have not yet taken `no' for an answer."

As for Japan, the economic powers worried that the country's $125 billion stimulus package is insufficient to get things going again domestically, thus becoming the engine for Asian economic recovery.

British Treasury chief Gordon Brown said the finance ministers had "noted there would be further progress" by the Japanese, but others said bluntly it couldn't come fast enough.

Perhaps as a sop to Japan, the ministers also noted that the Amer-ican economy, barreling along at the speed of light, bears close watching as well, needing "vigilance to stay on a sustainable path."