- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

SINGAPORE — President Bush yesterday won commitments from Asian allies to intensify efforts to thwart terrorism, a day before he heads into one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist hot spots.

On the final day of a four-day economic summit in Bangkok, regional ministers from across Asia joined the United States in pledging to begin a series of steps to wage war on terrorism.

“We agreed that transnational terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction pose direct and profound challenges to APEC’s vision of free, open and prosperous economies,” leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group said in a joint declaration.

“Ministers are committed to ongoing work in blocking the cross-border movement of equipment, funds and people involved in transnational terrorist activities,” the statement said.

The 21-member economies also agreed to take steps to prevent terrorists from acquiring surface-to-air missiles, a particular concern of the United States. The leaders pledged to “confront the threat posed by terrorists’ acquisition and use” of mobile weapons known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, which could be used to attack an airliner.

The shoulder-fired missiles would be particularly adept at striking a civilian airline because jet engines produce high heat during takeoffs and landings, which would attract the heat-seeking weapons.

Last year, terrorists fired two missiles toward a Boeing 757 taking off from Mombasa, Kenya, with more than 200 Israeli tourists aboard. The missiles did not strike the plane. But two years ago, rebels in Chechnya shot down a military helicopter with a portable missile, killing more than 100 soldiers.

Mr. Bush and APEC leaders also vowed in their joint statement to adopt strict domestic export-control measures on the weapons, secure their stockpiles and regulate their production.

The White House was pleased with the achievements in Bangkok.

“On terrorism, leaders endorsed a remarkably strong set of security commitments that will complement APEC’s economic goals,” a senior administration official said. “The declaration that was issued recognizes that terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are ‘direct and profound’ challenges to APEC’s vision of free and open trade.”

The president, the official said, “thought that it was very important for this meeting to send a strong message and make a strong statement that we won’t yield to terrorism and we won’t be intimidated.”

Mr. Bush, who traveled last night to Singapore for a brief stay, leaves this morning for Bali, a resort island in Indonesia where terrorists killed more than 200 people in a bomb attack on a night club last year.

In a short visit limited by security concerns — so brief that the president will stay for just three hours and never leave the airport — Mr. Bush is expected to urge Indonesia and its neighbors to crack down on terrorist groups with close ties to al Qaeda.

Mr. Bush will meet with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and urge her to tighten the noose on militant Islamic group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Security is intense in Bali, in part because Indonesia’s foreign minister announced that a terrorist attack coinciding with the president’s visit is “imminent.”

In Bangkok, Mr. Bush and the other APEC leaders — all wearing colorful shirts from the host country — stood side by side as Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pressed home the need to work for a stable Korean Peninsula.

“We seek a peaceful resolution through dialogue while addressing all the concerns of the parties including the security concerns raised by [North Korea],” he said.

“We are committed to the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula and support continuation of the six-party talks and look forward to concrete and verifiable progress toward a complete and permanent nuclear-weapons-free Korean Peninsula.”

But the pact did not include a call for North Korea to disarm, nor was there a separate statement on the issue as Japan had wanted.

During the APEC meetings, Mr. Bush ruled “off the table” giving Pyongyang the nonaggression treaty it demands but said he was exploring ways to provide written security assurances backed by Washington’s partners in talks on North Korea — South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

North Korea last night contemptuously rejected written security guarantees, saying the offer is “laughable and doesn’t deserve even any consideration.”

A statement by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reiterated the communist state’s demand for “a bilateral treaty between North Korea and the United States, and not for some sort of security guarantee.”

In Singapore, Mr. Bush met with President S.R. Nathan and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. Though Mr. Bush did not speak to the U.S. press trailing him around Asia, he and Mr. Goh issued a joint statement that called for tougher steps against terrorism.

“They recognized that much headway had been made in disrupting terrorist networks, but agreed that more needed to be done and that the campaign against terrorism required a sustained long-term effort,” the statement said.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Goh also discussed Iraq, the statement said, and Mr. Bush expressed thanks for Singapore’s contributions toward Iraq’s reconstruction, including training the Iraqi police to protect critical installations.

The president spent the night in the city-state before heading to Bali. After the short layover, he goes on to Canberra, Australia, and then Hawaii on Friday before returning to Washington.

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