- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

President Bush departs Friday for his final scheduled foreign trip as commander in chief - a three-day jaunt to an economic summit in Peru - where he will continue to defend free-market capitalism and meet with an increasingly antagonistic Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Mr. Bush will direct much of his attention, in public statements and in meetings with other foreign leaders, to emphasizing the need for nations to reject protectionism as they deal with the global economic crisis.

The president hopes that the nations at the summit who did not attend last weekend’s Group of 20 meeting in Washington will agree to the statement affirming free markets that came out of the summit.

“The G-20 represents a certain global consensus. As that consensus broadens out, as other members of the global community … subscribe to those same principles, it gives them more power,” said Dan Price, the president’s top adviser on international economics.

But it’s likely that much of the media focus at the summit will center on Mr. Bush’s meeting with Mr. Medvedev on Saturday.

It will be the first meeting between the two men since Mr. Medvedev took office in May. Mr. Bush briefly met with Mr. Medvedev in April, during a trip to Sochi, Russia.

U.S.-Russia relations took a turn for the worse in August, when the Kremlin invaded neighboring Georgia, a former Soviet bloc country.

Mr. Medvedev also has threatened that Russia will counter a U.S.-planned missile-defense system in Eastern Europe with missile installations of their own in the region.

And Russia is sending a fleet of warships to the Caribbean to conduct joint exercises next week with Venezuelan vessels, in a show of unity between Mr. Medvedev and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an ardent anti-U.S. populist.

Mr. Medvedev will leave the summit Sunday for a swing through Venezuela, Brazil and communist-run Cuba, in a trip that appears aimed at thumbing the U.S. in the eye.

But the Russian leader, who many see as a proxy for former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, also said last weekend in Washington that he hopes to have good relations with President-elect Barack Obama.

Mr. Bush also will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday evening and with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Saturday morning.

In between the bilateral meetings with the Japanese and South Korean heads of state, Mr. Bush will join both men for a trilateral session that will focus on continued efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons program.

The G-20 nations last weekend agreed to seek resolution of disagreements that are keeping them from finishing the Doha round of global trade talks, and the meeting of 21 Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member countries would seem to be a good opportunity to do that.

But without the presence of India at the summit this weekend, many experts think any talk of reviving the trade talks is Pollyanish. India has asked to be admitted to APEC and received preliminary approval.

Yet Mr. Bush’s continued promotion of free markets and free trade will still be important, said Charles Freeman, a former U.S. trade representative focused on China.

“Given the fact that we do seem to be trying to fight our worst instincts no protectionism, this is a good opportunity, at least, to get out there and shake the rhetorical cup for a maintenance of open markets,” Mr. Freeman said.

The nations who are a part of APEC but do not belong to the G-20 are Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Peru and Vietnam.

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