- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

George W. Bush today begins the most important foreign policy week of his young presidency, with leaders from Japan, Israel and China trooping through the White House and bringing their countries' problems with them.
The first is Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, a lame duck expected to be ousted next month. He will discuss with Mr. Bush today his concerns about a collapsing Japanese economy, local resentment at U.S. troops stationed in Japan and the deaths of nine Japanese after a U.S. submarine collision off Hawaii.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to meet Mr. Bush tomorrow as Palestinian protests and attacks on Israelis continue. The rising Arab death toll has led to worldwide calls for Israel to ease its restrictions on the Palestinians and to permit the deployment of an international protection force.
Chinese Vice-Prime Minister Qian Qichen visits the White House Thursday as the leadership in Beijing seeks to learn just how tough the Bush team's China policy will be and whether Taiwan will get the destroyers, missiles and other weapons it seeks.
Many of the same issues especially on the Middle East will be on the agenda Friday when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan comes to Washington for his first meeting with the new president.
Mr. Bush, derided during the election campaign as a candidate with little foreign policy experience, has mobilized his foreign policy advisers to prepare for the meetings, an administration official said.
"The timing of the next week is foreign policy-heavy," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But the approach is the same. He is working with his foreign policy team to prepare him to address the important issues.
"These are important meetings with major allies Israel and Japan as well as China, which is not a major ally."
After taking office in January, Mr. Bush met first with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien in Washington and then, in Mexico, with new President Vicente Fox.
The stream of foreign leaders seeking to touch base with the new administration continued as Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair solidified the nations' "special relationship" at Camp David.
In the following days, Mr. Bush met in Washington with Colombia's President Andres Pastrana, El Salvador's President Francisco Flores Perez, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson.
On Friday, he met Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose visit coincided with St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
While the meetings with foreign leaders "occur in the normal course of maintaining U.S. foreign relations," each country requires a "different mix of preparation," said the official.
"With Japan, obviously, economic issues will be part of the discussion. We have major economic issues with the world's second-largest economy. The people involved include the national security team, U.S. trade representative, Secretary [of State Colin] Powell's foreign policy team and Treasury."
Mr. Sharon, who will also meet in Washington with Jewish groups, said on his departure yesterday that he was coming to "strengthen the special relationship between Israel and the United States" and to explain his government's positions on the peace process.
"I embark on this special mission with a feeling of … the responsibility that the citizens of Israel placed upon me," he said. "It is my deep recognition that Israel and its citizens have the basic right … to live in security and peace."
The Bush administration has repeatedly said it will not take the intensive, leading role in Middle East talks that the Clinton administration did until the 1993 Oslo peace process collapsed last September into violence, terrorism and an Israeli closure of the Palestinian territories.
Mr. Powell and Mr. Bush are concerned that the Palestinian-Israeli clashes that have left about 400 Palestinians and 50 Israelis dead will inspire anti-Americanism in the Arab world, increase Arab support for Saddam Hussein and affect oil supplies.
Mr. Bush met Friday with Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, prior to a meeting of oil-producing nations in Vienna, Austria, where a decision was made to cut oil production 2 percent despite U.S. objections.
While Mr. Bush is to have meetings and then lunches with the Japanese and Israeli leaders, he will not break bread with Mr. Qian, who since he is not a head of government is officially considered a guest of the State Department.
Analysts said China was adopting a "wait and see" policy toward the Bush administration and hoped to see more consistency than it did from the Clinton team, even if there is to be some harsh rhetoric over human rights, trade and Taiwan.
Foreign leaders have been interested in visiting Washington since the United States became a world power at the start of the 20th century. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they have been even more anxious to troop to the seat of the one remaining superpower.
After their five minutes on the world stage at every fall's opening of the U.N. General Assembly, for example, leaders dash from New York to Washington for meetings aimed at winning support and assistance with their problems.
They are also drawn to Washington in search of financial aid from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which are based here and highly susceptible to U.S. influence. Others seek bilateral U.S. aid and trade.
Israel receives close to $3 billion a year under the 20-year-old Camp David agreements and is seeking an increase to cover military costs.
Japan, meanwhile, is mired in a decade-old economic slump, raising fears it will withdraw huge investments in U.S. stocks and bonds which could drive down the shaky U.S. economy.
China, which is neither an ally nor an enemy according to the State Department, is a significant U.S. trading partner with whom the Bush administration seeks continued trade along with assurances it will not use force against Taiwan and will halt its sales of weapons to rogue states such as Iraq and Iran.

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