President Bush arrived in Canberra, Australia, on Wednesday to thank Australian Prime Minister John Howard for his support in the war on terrorism. His visit was marked by protests in major Australian cities, where opposition to U.S. foreign policy under the Bushadministration runs strong.
Bush flew from in Bali, Indonesia, where he paid tribute to the victims last year’s nightclub bombings.
Bush was met by staunch ally Howard and his wife, Janette, at Canberra’s Fairbairn Air Force Base late on Wednesday.
Following a low-key welcome, Bush and his entourage were whisked away in a motorcade to the ambassador’s residence, where Bush will be staying.
When the president meets with Howard on Thursday, he will thank Australia for sending troops to fight alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite strong public opposition. Trade and terrorism will top the agenda for talks with the leader of Australia, a nation Bush dubbed his “sheriff” in the U.S.-led war on terror.
In the lead-up to Bush’s visit on Wednesday, anti-U.S. protesters took to the streets of Australia’s main cities.
Rappers sang anti-American songs from the back of a truck in Sydney. Other demonstrators donned rubber masks bearing the likenesses of Bush and Howard to dance in the street, drink beer and make noise.
“We’re demonstrating to say we oppose the policies of the Bush administration and particularly the ongoing occupation of Iraq. We also oppose the Australian government’s involvement in that occupation,” protest organizer Nick Everett told Reuters.
“The Australian government should reject any further requests for assistance from the United States.”
Bush planned to spend the night at the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy.
BUSH DENOUNCES KIM, ARAFAT
On the flight from Indonesia, Bush was in an expansive mood, wearing an Air Force One flight jacket, snacking noisily on a butterscotch sweets and chopping the air for emphasis.
He was unequivocal in denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Bush was blunt when reporters asked him to describe what he thought about Kim, who is locked in a contest of wills with Bush and the leaders of China, Japan, South Korea and Russia over his nuclear weapons programs.
“Any leader that starves his people is — you can’t respect anyone who would let his people starve and shrink in size because of malnutrition,” he said. “It’s a sad, sad situation for the North Korean people.”
He again ruled out the nonaggression treaty that Pyongyang wants with Washington.
“A treaty is not going to happen, but there are other ways to effect, on paper, (do) what I have said publicly: We have no intention of invading,” he said.
While at an Asia-Pacific summit in Bangkok, Bush spoke to the leaders of China, Japan, South Korea and Russia about his plan and walked away with allied support. He said it was unclear what type of security guarantees will be proposed, but that it would involve a promise not to invade North Korea. “We haven’t worked out the words,” he said.
LITTLE PATIENCE FOR ARAFAT
InsertArt(2048517)Bush also had little patience for Arafat, accusing him of dumping Mahmoud Abbas as prime minister for cooperating with the United States on a plan aimed at creating a Palestinian state by 2005 and attempting to stop Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
Abbas’ resigned in a power struggle with Arafat over control of Palestinian security forces and was replaced by Ahmed Qureia, who has not cracked down on militants like Bush wants.
“I was disappointed that Arafat shoved him (Abbas) out of the way. It was an unfortunate decision because it stopped good progress toward a Palestinian state,” he said.
When the Palestinian Authority comes up with a leader who will crack down on militants, he said, “the process will pick up where it left off and move forward”
He dismissed criticism of his foreign policy from the nine Democrats challenging him in next year’s presidential election.
“You know, I’m not paying that much attention to it,” he said. “You know, one of these days they’ll have a candidate, and then it will all sort out, kind of come in focus.”
AUSTRALIA’S HOWARD A ‘SHERIFF’
Bush defended his description of Howard as a “sheriff,” even though it has led to some regional concerns that Washington backed a more muscular role for Australia in the area.
“He’s a man of steel, he’s a stand-up guy. He’s a sheriff,” Bush said. “Of all the people in the world who understand Texas, it’s probably Australians.”
Bush said he tells world leaders to stick to their beliefs even though their decisions may be unpopular. He mentioned specifically British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. All three supported Bush on Iraq.
“Just do what you think is right. Stand your ground in the face of public criticism,” he said. “And the people, when things turn out ... for the good, people will judge you correctly.”
CLAMPDOWN ON INDONESIA’S TERRORISTS
Earlier on Wednesday, Bush spent three hours on the resort island of Bali, pressing his crackdown on terrorists.
One year ago ... Indonesia suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history, when over 200 innocent men and women lost their lives,” Bush said at a news conference held just steps from the Indian Ocean, where a gunboat patrolled in the distance. “Today we pay tribute to the victims, we remember the suffering of their families, and we reaffirm our commitment to win the war on terror.”
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri pledged cooperation with the United States in the pursuit of global peace, while acknowledging that many of her citizens are suspicious of the United States.
“Despite the fact we do not always share common perspective, we must continue to hold mutual understanding that it is to the interest of the two countries to maintain consultation and cooperation in the pursuit of global peace,” Megawati said.
Bali was the fifth stop on Bush’s six-nation tour of Asia and Australia.
Bush’s visit was intended as a gesture of support — both symbolic and financial — for Megawati’s efforts to battle terrorism and curb the influence of radical, anti-Western Muslims.
Anti-American sentiment is rampant in Indonesia. Many Indonesians are upset over the U.S.-led war in Iraq and U.S. policy in the Middle East. While Megawati is viewed as an ally in the war against terror, she told the United Nations last month that the war created problems that it was supposed to solve.
Megawati accompanied Bush when he met with moderate Muslim religious leaders, a Hindu cleric and a Catholic priest to address criticism of U.S. policy in the Mideast. He announced a $157 million education grant to counter what some fear is a growing influence of hard-line Islamic schools in Indonesia.
FRONT LINE IN WAR ON TERROR
On Oct. 12, 2002, militants from the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group blew up two Bali nightclubs, killing 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. The bombings — the largest terror attack since Sept. 11, 2001 — forced Indonesia to the front lines of the war on terror.
The group’s alleged commander, Riduan Isamuddin Hambali, was captured in September in Thailand and is now in U.S. custody. The Bush administration says Megawati has taken effective steps against terrorism, particularly since the Bali bombings; about 100 Jemaah Islamiyah members have been arrested and 29 people connected with the Bali bombings have been convicted.
Earlier this week, however, the country’s security minister said a new attack by Jemaah Islamiyah was “imminent.”
“Americans hold a deep respect for the Islamic faith, which is professed by a growing number of my own citizens,” Bush said. “We know that Islam is fully compatible with liberty and tolerance and progress...Terrorists who claim Islam as their inspiration defile one of the world’s great faiths.”
Bush’s visit was criticized by radical Islamic groups.
“President George W. Bush is the perpetrator of state terrorism and is a criminal who has destroyed other nations,” said the Indonesian Ulema Council, a group comprising mostly mainstream Muslim groups.
(The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.)