Bush rallies China's help on North Korea

November 21, 2008 5:11:52 PM PST
In a last dash of diplomacy, President George W. Bush on Friday sought China's help in pinning down North Korea to keep its shaky promises of nuclear disarmament. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao privately tried to push along a way to verify North Korea's nuclear declarations - the latest hang-up in a showdown that has vexed six nations.

The meeting came as Bush began his last scheduled foreign journey, at a yearly Asia-Pacific forum, where the world's economic collapse and the North Korea standoff dominated.

Bush even allowed that he "felt a little nostalgic" over his final meeting as a head of state with Hu, White House press secretary Dana Perino said. It was some rare reflection from Bush, a nod to his ties with the leader of a communist nation that is both friend and foe.

North Korea has agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for coveted aid and diplomatic recognition, a deal arranged with the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. But it has not fully allowed outside inspectors, and talks have repeatedly gone off course.

Bush wants to emerge from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, also known as APEC, 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.

Perino said Bush and Hu discussed that meeting, but no date has been set.

The president's other main goal in Peru is to steady the shuddering economy by rallying more Pacific Rim nations to shore up global financial markets. But even that step would soon be handed to his successor, Democrat Barack Obama, who replaces Bush in just two months.

The vast economic downturn, rooted first in the United States, hangs over the meeting. Bush is trumpeting what he calls the key to a rebound: free markets, trade and people.

"We're facing a difficult challenge and there will be tough days ahead," Bush said in a Saturday radio address released early by the White House. "But by relying on these principles, we can be confident in the future of our nation and the world."

In Bush's sole public appearance Friday, he was literally gone in a flash. He shook hands with Hu in a photo opportunity that lasted under 10 seconds. Neither offered comment.

Privately, the two discussed a familiar range of topics, according to the White House: the economic crisis, conflicts of religious freedom, trouble spots such as Iran and Sudan.

Bush's pace picks up Saturday in the Peruvian capital of Lima.

He will deliver a pro-trade economic speech, attend meetings of the 21-nation APEC coalition and meet individually with the heads of Canada, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

Across the weekend, Bush is meeting with leaders of the four other countries involved in ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons program. That effort appeared to get back on track when the U.S. removed North Korea from its list of nations that sponsor terrorism, but North Korea has since balked at allowing inspectors to take samples from its main nuclear complex.

"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."

On the economy, Bush arrived with a turbulent trail behind him this week: more startling drops in the stock market only partially made up for by a Wall Street climb on Friday, the highest level of unemployment claims in 16 years, and no solution for flailing automakers.

Before leaving the White House, Bush quickly signed an extension of aid for jobless workers, hardly the kind of bill any president relishes.

In Peru, his goal is to get more countries to buy into a global response plan hatched last weekend in Washington. The Group of 20, made up of the world's richest countries and emerging powers, adopted a package of measures aimed at better oversight and regulation.

But the bureaucratic task of reforming world financial markets will take time. So far, long-term promises have done little to ease jittery markets or the gloom of the public.

"We didn't promise immediate results," Perino said.

The Pacific Rim summit comes as the White House is beginning to defend, if not try to shape, Bush's legacy - something the president and his team have not engaged in so far.

Wilder told reporters that Bush improved U.S. ties with such countries as India, China, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia. "All of the major powers of East Asia, we now have strong and productive relationships with," he said. "Never before in American history have we been able to make that statement as strongly."

Likewise, Bush aides representing Latin and Western Hemisphere affairs offered broad and unsolicited defenses Friday of the Bush's record on diplomacy, security and humanitarian aid.

And the president himself engaged a little.

In a television interview the day before he left, Bush said he has "given it my all" on several fronts. "And I'm very hopeful that these measures will make it easier for President-elect Obama, not harder," he said.


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