US President George W. Bush yesterday pushed for Asian support on a new overture to end a North Korean nuclear standoff that has cast a shadow over the region for more than a year. Asia-Pacific leaders prepared to announce a new crackdown on terrorists and a bid to restart stalled trade talks.
North Korea was not on the official agenda of the 21-nation APEC forum's agenda, but Bush raised the issue in hopes of gaining support for a new proposal to end the crisis. US officials worked behind the scenes to get a mention of the matter in the summit's final declaration.
But hopes of ending the standoff were tempered as South Korea reported that the North tested a short-range land-to-ship missile in the Japan Sea yesterday.
Bush rode to the summit on Bangkok streets that had been cleared of the city's normally heavy traffic. The president's motorcade slowed to allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to speed by so he could arrive ahead of Bush, under protocol rules requiring leaders to show up in alphabetical order by name of their country.
The leaders were greeted in a large foyer at Government House by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shin-awatra and then walked to a nearby building for their talks. They took their seats in a cavernous ivory colored room.
Security surrounding the meeting in the Thai capital was tight. Fighter jets escorted the planes of arriving VIPs and helicopters flew over motorcades as they moved through Bangkok's unusually empty streets.
The APEC leaders will promise to intensify an effort to dismantle terror groups, according to a draft communique.
They will also promise to more tightly control production of weapons that can be used to down commercial aircraft -- but stop short of calling for an outright ban.
But Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a close US ally in the war on terror, said he believes that action is more important than words.
"It's what you do that counts," he said.
APEC will also call on the WTO to restart talks for a new global commerce deal following the collapse of negotiations last month in the Mexican resort of Cancun. And leaders will pledge to be better prepared for any future outbreaks of SARS, other infectious diseases or bioterrorist attacks, according to the draft declaration.
For the Americans, North Korea remained the most compelling issue.
"We have a common goal to make sure that the Korean Peninsula is nuclear weapons free," Bush told South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun at a breakfast meeting.
He met with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) the day before.
Bush is promoting a plan in which five nations -- the US, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea -- would jointly give North Korea written assurances it wouldn't be attacked in exchange for its promise to dismantle its nuclear program.
For his part, Roh supported and praised the US efforts.
"This issue is very critical for ... the further progress of Korea," Roh said.
US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters there had not been any feedback yet -- either directly or indirectly -- from Pyongyang.
Still, she said, "Whatever we come up with will be more enduring that what we've had in the past."
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