Bush focuses on North Korea and the economy

November 22, 2008|By Patrick J. McDonnell | Patrick J. McDonnell,Los Angeles Times

LIMA, Peru - President George W. Bush arrived in South America yesterday for the final scheduled foreign trip of his presidency, hoping to bolster confidence in efforts to rescue the global economy and move forward on North Korean nuclear disarmament.

The 21 member nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, whose summit Bush is attending, account for nearly half of all global trade and 55 percent of the world's gross domestic product, reflecting in part the ascendance of East Asia and China. Among the organization's members are China and Russia. Along with Peru, Chile and Mexico are the Latin American members.

"APEC is an important meeting at this time, particularly given the financial situation in the world," Bush said in a pre-summit interview with Peru's America Television.

Bush is expected to urge support for the consensus he and other world leaders backed last weekend in Washington. The leaders of the so-called Group of 20, comprising major countries with developed or emerging economies, signed off on a blueprint to spur economic growth and resist new trade barriers, while also calling for improved oversight and regulation.

The president "will be seeking to build on the results" of the Washington conclave, Dan Price, assistant to Bush for international economic affairs, told reporters in a briefing en route to Lima.

Most APEC members seem likely to back the Bush administration's argument that nations should not turn to protectionism in the midst of economic turmoil.

Bush is slated to hold a number of one-on-one sessions, which began yesterday with a private meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao. North Korean nuclear disarmament was expected to come up in discussions with Hu and the leaders of Japan and South Korea.

China hosts the so-called "six-nation" talks on North Korea's nuclear weaponry. Pyongyang is seeking economic and diplomatic concessions in exchange for nuclear dismantlement.

"Our primary goal is to get back to the negotiating table in Beijing," said Dennis Wilder, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council.

Wilder said the broader aim of the so-called six-party talks is to leave "a process in place that the next administration can work with. And I think we will do that."

Bush wants to emerge from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum with firm plans for the six countries to meet in Beijing, perhaps in early December. The goal would be to formally agree on the way to verify North Korea's nuclear capabilities.

Bush and Hu discussed that meeting, but no date has been set, White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

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