- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

Pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear-weapons program and strengthening the coalition in the war on terror will be the focus of President Bush’s diplomacy at the Asia-Pacific summit that begins formally tomorrow.

At the trade meeting, Mr. Bush will leverage the economic power of the United States and the momentum of his re-election to bolster support for fighting Islamic extremists around the world. That objective is made more difficult, however, by the opposition to the Iraq war expressed by several nations in the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

The six-party talks with North Korea — which also involve the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia — stalled when the impoverished dictatorship refused to meet in September. Many observers thought that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was waiting to see whether Mr. Bush would lose the election, so his country could resume the kind of bilateral negotiations promised by Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry. They had failed during the Clinton administration.

“They stalled to see if they could get a better deal,” said a senior Bush administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They were holding out.”

The Bush administration thinks the incentive to stall has passed, and this weekend’s summit will be used by APEC to pressure North Korea to return to the negotiating table.

“The things we hear out of Pyongyang are often posturing, and I think all of us who deal with North Korea have gotten used to this rhetoric,” another senior administration official said.

In advance of the president’s arrival today, foreign ministers from the six negotiating nations agreed in principle that the talks with North Korea should resume soon.

“This will be at the top of the agenda,” the official said. “The work on North Korea at APEC has already been done by APEC as a whole. This is an opportunity to use the meetings to start getting down to the business of getting North Korea to give up its weapons programs.

“So a lot of it is getting down to brass tacks and tactics,” he said. “The general framework for a resolution everyone now is beginning to agree on.”

The president also will push the APEC members to help track down and thwart terrorist organizations in their countries. The Philippine government has worked in conjunction with the United States against terrorists in its own country since shortly after the September 11 attacks.

The issue is more sensitive for Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, which is struggling to eliminate extremists while not provoking its majority community. Indonesia’s opposition to the Iraq war is seen as a measure taken to calm Islamist elements.

Mr. Bush has linked solving the North Korean problem with the fight against terrorism because of the threat of that country’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.

The most friendly member of APEC that Mr. Bush is likely to see is Australian Prime Minister John Howard, among the stauncher U.S. allies in the war on terror who won re-election this year despite a terrorist attack on the nation’s embassy in Indonesia and aides from the Kerry campaign in Australia working for the Republican’s defeat.

Mr. Howard said he would enthusiastically join Mr. Bush’s call for other APEC members to fight terrorism.

“Continuing terrorist attacks this year, including against the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, demonstrate the need to redouble our efforts to fight terrorism in the region,” Mr. Howard said yesterday before departing for the summit. “It is important APEC continues its existing strong work on dealing with the problem of terrorism to prevent it from undermining our communities and our economies.”

Mr. Bush also will meet tomorrow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, another leader whose country has experienced terrorism, including the massacre of school children by Chechen Muslim extremists in Beslan in September.

A senior administration official said tomorrow’s meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox likely will focus on Mr. Bush’s temporary-worker proposal that would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the United States.

On the way back to Washington on Monday, Mr. Bush will stop in Colombia to visit President Alvaro Uribe and discuss joint efforts to stop the narcotics trafficking that funds terrorist activities.

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