WASHINGTON -- Under political pressure to demonstrate concern for the plight of U.S. workers, President Bush yesterday unveiled a get-tough approach toward America's trading partners, saying the nation has "shown a lot of forebearance" and now wants action.
The president, after meeting with business leaders who will accompany him on a four-nation Asian tour in early January, said he would tell the foreign leaders with whom he meets: "We want markets that are fully open to American goods and services."
Criticism that he has neglected the nation's domestic problems prompted Bush to postpone the trip, originally scheduled to take place in November. In discussing his trip agenda, he now insists that the journey is about "American jobs" and economic prosperity at home.
With the presidential election campaign gearing up, Bush has joined Democrats in directing blame for the nation's economic problems at America's trading partners. Friday morning, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and several other Democrats are scheduled to unveil proposed legislation that would impose economic sanctions on imported Japanese automobiles if the U.S. balance of trade with Japan does not improve.
Speaking at a news conference for foreign journalists, Bush also promised the people of Cuba that if they can cast off Fidel Castro and his communist system, U.S. economic assistance would begin flowing to their distressed nation.
Castro should "give the people the freedom that they want," Bush said. "Then you'll see the United States do exact
ly what we should: go down, lift these people up, and say 'we want to help you.' "
Bush said that he had spoken Wednesday with Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, and recently with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, about the unresolved problems posed by the overthrow of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But he insisted that only those Haitians seeking asylum in the United States for political reasons would be given refuge.
"Those who leave for purely economic reasons are not entitled to harbor under our laws," he said.
The president's comments on foreign trade reflected the White House's increasing sensitivity in response as critics -- saying Bush should tend to domestic problems.