United States President George Bush hopes to spur momentum for a world trade pact and a global target on climate change at this week’s Asia-Pacific summit but the Iraq debate at home looms as a distraction.
Bush will meet in Sydney with the leaders of Australia, China, Japan, Russia and other members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum. He leaves Washington on Monday and is due to arrive in Australia on Tuesday evening.
The trip marks Bush’s seventh to Apec, and he has vowed to keep an active presence in the Asia-Pacific region amid nervousness among some US allies over China’s rising clout.
But Bush has drawn criticism for his plans to leave the summit a day before its official end. He will rush back home to prepare for a crucial progress report on Iraq from US commander General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
The Petraeus-Crocker report is a focal point of an intensifying debate over whether United States should withdraw its forces from Iraq. The issue threatens to intrude on Bush’s agenda at Apec, a forum of 21 economies that account for 60% of global gross domestic product.
In Sydney, Bush’s highest priority will be breathing life into the moribund Doha round of world trade talks, which suffered a major setback at a June meeting in Germany.
Bush will press his counterparts to reinvigorate efforts toward a global trade pact billed by supporters as a way of boosting world growth and lifting millions out of poverty.
”The president understands that this is difficult,” said Dan Price, a trade and economy expert at the White House. ”But the administration is prepared to make the tough choices if others are likewise prepared to make those tough choices to create new trade flows.”
Bush also wants to begin drawing China and India further into the fold of discussions on a global pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
”I don’t want to single out China, but China has got a major role to play,” Bush said in a round-table interview with Asia-Pacific newspapers. ”Any agreement without China is not going to be an effective agreement.”
After long resisting numerical targets on emissions cuts and rejecting the United Nations-sponsored Kyoto treaty, Bush in May called for a long-term global goal to cut emissions and urged a series of meetings among major polluting countries. Washington will host the first of those sessions on September 27 to 28.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard wants Apec leaders to agree to the idea of an ”aspirational” goal on emissions cuts.
On the sidelines of Apec, Bush has plans for several bilateral meetings. He will meet one-on-one with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Russian President Vladimir Putin and likely South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.
With a summit between North and South Korea coming up later in September, Bush is expected to urge Roh hang tough on the effort to get North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to give up the country’s nuclear weapons programme.
”He will try to persuade Roh not to give away the farm to Kim Jong-il,” said Michael Green, a former White House aide now with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Bush will spend most of Wednesday with Howard, a steadfast ally who was one of the first leaders to commit troops to the Iraq war. Bush’s visit and the success of the Apec summit are viewed as helpful to Howard’s re-election bid because of the prestige surrounding top-level gathering.
Stakes in Iraq
Many Australian value warm ties with the United States, even though both Bush and the Iraq war are unpopular there.
With elections due in Australia by the end of the year, Howard lags behind opposition leader Kevin Rudd, who has vowed to pull non-essential troops from Iraq if he wins. Australia has about 1 500 troops in and around Iraq.
Bush, who plans a meeting with Rudd on Thursday, said he would raise the subject of Iraq with the Labour Party leader.
”I’m going to remind him that, one, the stakes in Iraq are very high for peace,” Bush said. ”Iraqi-style democracy in the heart of the Middle East is part of winning this ideological struggle.”
”And I’ll remind him that, as far as I’m concerned, that leaving Iraq before the job is done will cause an enemy that attacked us before to become emboldened,” Bush added. – Reuters