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Economy, N. Korea on Bush's APEC agenda

President Bush on Friday moved to steady a shuddering economy and speed up the demise of North Korea's nuclear weaponry. Those twin aims framed his weekend stop in Peru for the APEC forum.
Image: George Bush and Hu Jintao
President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jinta shake hands ahead of a private meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on Friday in Lima. Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

In a final diplomatic dash, President George W. Bush on Friday moved to steady a shuddering economy and speed up the demise of North Korea's nuclear weaponry.

Those twin aims framed Bush's weekend stop in Peru for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, where leaders arrived to the stark tone of a world teetering on recession.

In his first order of business, Bush met privately Friday with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The two leaders discussed the global financial crisis, as well as formalizing the verification process for the so-called "six-party" talks on the nuclear disarmament of North Korea, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.

Bush "encouraged the Chinese to continue their dialogue with the Dalai Lama" over the future of Tibet and "expressed his long-standing commitment to religious freedom," Perino said.

The leaders also talked about continued cooperation on a range of issues, including Iran, Burma, Zimbabwe and Sudan, Perino said.

Modest goalsBush's pace picks up Saturday in the Peruvian capital of Lima. On Saturday, he will deliver a pro-trade economic speech, attend meetings of the 21-nation APEC coalition and meet individually with the heads of Canada, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

The global economic downturn, rooted first in the United States, hangs over the meeting. Bush is trumpeting what he calls the key to a rebound: free markets, trade and people.

"We're facing a difficult challenge and there will be tough days ahead," Bush said in a Saturday radio address released early by the White House. "But by relying on these principles, we can be confident in the future of our nation and the world."

Aboard Air Force One en route to Peru, Bush aides outlined modest goals, but ones that could still be marked as progress in what will likely be the president's last foreign trip.

Bush is meeting with leaders of the four countries that have joined the U.S. in prodding North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. That effort appeared to get back on track when the U.S. removed North Korea from its list of nations that sponsor terrorism, but North Korea has since balked at allowing inspectors to take samples from its main nuclear complex.

Before leaving APEC, Bush wants to lock in an early December date when all six parties, including North Korea, will meet in China. The goal would be to get agreement on the verification of North Korea's nuclear declaration and disabling of its nuclear facilities.

Bush leaves office Jan. 20.

Global malaise
"Our primary goal is to get back to the negotiating table in Beijing," said Dennis Wilder, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council.

Wilder said the broader aim of the so-called six-party talks is to leave "a process in place that the next administration can work with. And I think we will do that."

North Korea gets diplomatic and economic concessions in exchange for nuclear disarmament.

On the economy, Bush arrived with a turbulent trail behind him this week: more startling drops in the stock market only partially made up for by a Wall Street climb on Friday, the highest level of unemployment claims in 16 years, and no solution in place for flailing automakers.

Before leaving the White House, Bush quickly signed an extension of aid for jobless workers, hardly the kind of bill that any president relishes.

In Peru, his goal is to get more countries to buy into a global response plan hatched last weekend in Washington. The Group of 20, made up of the world's richest countries and emerging powers, adopted a package of measures aimed at better oversight and regulation.

But the bureaucratic task of reforming world financial markets will take time. So far, long-term promises have done little to ease jittery markets or the gloom of the public.

Bush is hoping that the APEC countries, which include a number of nations that benefit significantly from trade, will promise, as the G-20 nations did, not to raise new economic barriers to trade over the next year. Nine of those G-20 nations also belong to APEC.

Shaping his legacy
The Pacific Rim summit comes as the White House is beginning to defend, if not try to shape, Bush's legacy — something the president and his team have not engaged in so far.

Wilder told reporters that Bush improved U.S. ties with such countries as India, China, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia. "All of the major powers of East Asia, we now have strong and productive relationships with," he said. "Never before in American history have we been able to make that statement as strongly."

Likewise, Bush aides representing Latin and Western Hemisphere affairs offered broad and unsolicited defenses Friday of the Bush's record on diplomacy, security and humanitarian aid.

And the president himself engaged a little.

In a television interview the day before he left, Bush said he has "given it my all" on several fronts. "And I'm very hopeful that these measures will make it easier for President-elect Obama, not harder," he said.