- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

LIMA, Peru | President Bush snared fresh international support Saturday on the economy and North Korea, emerging from his final world gathering with modest wins and growing nostalgia about his turbulent tenure.

Dogged by a collapsing economy late in his presidency, Mr. Bush came away with the commitment he wanted from Asia’s Pacific nations — a pledge to keep trade flowing and shun protectionism.

And Mr. Bush got a boost as the six nations involved in ridding North Korea of its nuclear weaponry agreed to meet in China in December, perhaps to finally lock in a disarmament deal.

All the while, Mr. Bush displayed a new willingness to look back on his term and speak wistfully about it, the kind of reflection he previously had dismissed as premature or pointless.

“We’ve had our agreements; we’ve had our disagreements,” Mr. Bush said to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a rather succinct nod to a bilateral relationship that has seen better days. “I’ve tried to work hard to make it a cordial relationship, though.”

The 21 leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC, rallied behind the economic crisis plan that Mr. Bush and other leaders forged last week in Washington. It already had the stamp of the world’s richest economies and emerging powers, including some APEC nations, and now Mr. Bush can say that other Pacific Rim nations are united in the cause.

Most notably, the APEC leaders offered a strong statement in support of free trade, which was Mr. Bush’s primary appeal when he launched a defense of open markets earlier in the day.

Evoking one of America’s darkest times, Mr. Bush said: “One of the enduring lessons of the Great Depression is that global protectionism is a path to global economic ruin.”

Mr. Bush went so far as to turn the depressing financial crisis into an upbeat opportunity, describing it as a chance for world unity and prosperity.

“With confidence in our ideals, we can turn the challenge we face today to an opportunity — and lead the way toward a new era of prosperity for the Asia-Pacific and beyond,” he said.

On the North Korea nuclear showdown, the White House announced that the six nations engaged in the matter were poised to get back to the negotiating table. Their goal is reaching terms on how to accurately verify North Korea’s nuclear dismantling efforts.

Mr. Bush met individually with two vital partners, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, sandwiched around a joint session of all three men. Mr. Bush had already conferred about the North Korea conflict on Friday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and capped the last-minute run at a deal by meeting with Mr. Medvedev.

The date of the next North Korea meeting in Beijing was not released. “We’ll let the Chinese announce their date,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said. “I think that they have it worked out.”

The White House said U.S. partners were growing wary that all their work over North Korea might disappear without success before Mr. Bush leaves office.

“I think the very understandable concern of these foreign governments is, ‘Will the new administration do some sort of policy review? Will it try to work with some new ideas?’” said Dennis Wilder, the White House’s top Asian affairs adviser.

“The one idea that all of these countries are definitely committed to is that the six-party process is the right format,” he said. “They want to, if you will, put this in the most attractive place possible so that the next American administration will see its value.”

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