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Bush plans 8-day Asia trip next week

On his upcoming trip to Asia, President Bush will chat with Japan's new prime minister and stoke his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He'll discuss terrorism, bird flu, trade and other issues with leaders of Vietnam and Indonesia.
/ Source: The Associated Press

On his upcoming trip to Asia, President Bush will chat with Japan's new prime minister and stoke his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He'll discuss terrorism, bird flu, trade and other issues with leaders of Vietnam and Indonesia.

Bush leaves on the eight-day trip on Tuesday. As a gesture of friendship to Russia, Air Force One will make a stop in Moscow on its way to southeast Asia, where Bush is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Hanoi.

"Southeast Asia is a region with an active al-Qaida-linked terrorist presence that we are working with partners to defeat," Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said Thursday. "It is a region where serious transnational health challenges exist, including avian flu, and the U.S. is cooperating with regional nations to control these threats."

A Region of change and uncertainty
It will be the president's second trip to Singapore and Indonesia and his first trip to Vietnam.

"It is a region of dynamic and transforming economies, ranging from the financial and high-tech hub of Singapore to the reforming and literally booming Vietnam," Hadley said during a White House briefing on the trip. "But it is also a region that is experiencing change and uncertainty in some sense as a result of the changing power dynamics within Asia."

Bush will meet with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and President Nguyen Minh Triet, an economic reformer who has pushed for his country's membership in the World Trade Organization.

The communist nation had hoped to join the trade body before the APEC forum, but it is unlikely that it will be able to join before December. The House could take up the Vietnam bill as early as Monday, before Bush leaves on the trip. The measure probably will pass, although some senators have held it up because of concerns about human rights violations.

Relations between Vietnam and the United States have steadily improved since the normalization of ties in 1995, with two-way trade reaching nearly $8 billion last year. Former Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai visited the White House in June 2005. He is the highest-ranking official from Vietnam to visit the United States since the end of the Vietnam War.

The Iraq factor
Hadley acknowledged that the trip to Hanoi would prompt comparisons between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. On Nov. 18, the president will visit the joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, where he will be briefed on efforts to ensure the accounting of all missing service members from the Vietnam war.

The conflicts differ, he said, because U.S. troops and public support for the war in Iraq is much higher than it was during the Vietnam War. And while there are fears of terrorism today, back then, talk about withdrawing troops from Vietnam prompted concern that nations would fall one after the other.

"There were discussions about dominoes, some which fell, some which didn't fall," Hadley said. "But nobody, I think, felt that it would result in a clear and present danger to the territory of the United States."

A Moscow sidetrip
President Bush added a visit to Moscow on his way to the Summit - a chance for him and Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to improve frayed ties.

The Moscow stop was initially planned for a refueling of Air Force One but White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said Putin invited Bush and his wife for a social visit during the stop.

Bush and Putin will also hold a meeting on the sidelines of the summit.

Washington is seeking Russia's backing for a tougher line against both Iran and North Korea on their nuclear weapons programs. Meanwhile, Russia wants U.S. support for its bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Bush and Putin were once close but their relationship has become strained over U.S. criticisms of Russia's crackdown on democratic freedoms and Russian opposition to the Iraq war and what it sees as an overly aggressive U.S. foreign policy.

For instance, in a veiled criticism of the United States and its allies, Putin was quoted Wednesday as saying he was concerned that some states were taking "one-sided illegitimate action" that undermines global stability.

After his brief stopover in Moscow, Bush is traveling to Singapore to meet Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President S.R. Nathan. Bush will give a speech to National University of Singapore to highlight U.S.-Asia relations and discuss ways to work together to battle poverty, disease, terrorism and energy security.

During his trip, Bush also will meet with: Australian Prime Minister John Howard, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.

On his way back to Washington, Bush is stopping in Honolulu to have breakfast with U.S. troops and attend a briefing by the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.