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Monday, November 20, 2006

Bush to China: help us on N Korea

The Australian: GEORGE W. Bush appealed to China yesterday to assist in pressuring a defiant North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

The US President met Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of a summit in Vietnam ahead of an expected resumption of six-country nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman after the meeting said the two leaders had agreed that "North Korea should get the message that possessing a nuclear bomb will not have the support of the international community, but rather will meet opposition".

Last night the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum issued a statement expressing "strong concern" over North Korea's July missile launches and the October 9 nuclear test.

During the summit the US also offered an olive branch to North Korea and Burma, with the promise of peace and opportunity if their regimes made the right "strategic choices".

Washington's overture to the two most hostile regimes in the region was interpreted by some as an acknowledgment that Mr Bush has been weakened by election defeats in the US mid-term polls and by the continuing violence in Iraq.

"If you get to a point where the North Koreans not only renounce but dismantle nuclear capabilities, we've indicated a willingness to talk about a lot of things," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Speaking in Hanoi, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US experience with Vietnam showed former enemies could be friends and partners.

She said Vietnam's communist leaders had opted to restore relations with the US, reform the country's economy and join the global trading system.

"There are other nations with which we hope to overcome differences, too," Dr Rice said yesterday, singling out North Korea and Burma.

Dr Rice's speech was warmly applauded, but behind the scenes at the Asia-Pacific summit US diplomats were struggling to win support from other countries for the Bush administration's tough policies against both regimes.

US national security adviser Stephen Hadley said Washington was pleased with a declaration that was expected to strongly urge Pyongyang to return to nuclear disarmament talks and abide by UN resolutions.

But the Americans have failed to win consensus for strong measures against North Korea after its test explosion of a nuclear device on October 9. Even South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun rebuffed Mr Bush's appeals on the issue.

The difference in treatment and perceptions between Mr Bush and Mr Hu has been conspicuous in Hanoi.

The Chinese leader arrived several days before the summit for a flower-strewn schedule of smiles and ribbon-cutting intended to show Asians that Beijing, not Washington, is now the capital that counts.

A Chinese diplomat said his country had prepared for Mr Hu's trip months in advance, resulting in the announcement of a dozen economic agreements, promises to resolve border disputes with Vietnam and an agreement to share offshore exploration for oil and gas. By contrast, Mr Bush's Vietnam schedule was abruptly cut back after the US election defeat, diplomatic sources said.

Heavily protected by thousands of elite troops and police, his few public engagements have been tightly controlled. He and his wife Laura attended services yesterday at Cua Bac Church, a concrete basilica built by the French more than a century ago.

They spent about 30 minutes at the service before shaking hands with a few dozen choir members.

Security for the US President will be just as tight when he flies today to Indonesia.

The Indonesian Government has mobilised thousands of security personnel to seal off the hill town of Bogor, in Java, where the US President will stop briefly.

About 50 Islamist groups are planning a mass demonstration in central Jakarta and are promising to send crowds of the faithful to Bogor to protest at the visit.

A spokesman for the militant Indonesian Mujaheddin Council, alleged to have been behind the 2002 Bali bombing, said it was legitimate for Muslims to take violent action against Mr Bush.

"His blood is halal to shed," said Fauzan, referring to the Arabic term for religious approval. "How many people have died or suffer because of his policy in the Middle East?"
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