Bush Seeks Asian Help in Terror War, Free Trade

President Bush (search) pressed for closer Asian partnerships in the war on terror, carrying his appeal Tuesday to free-trade partner Singapore and planning for a visit to Bali, Indonesia, under unusually tight security precautions.

The president arrived here from an economic summit in Bangkok, Thailand, where regional leaders pledged to intensify their crackdown on terror groups and to curb the spread of unconventional weapons.

But Bush failed to win explicit endorsement by the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (search) forum for a new U.S.-led diplomatic initiative to end a yearlong nuclear standoff with North Korea. And North Korea's firing of a short-range missile — possibly two — appeared to undercut progress toward an agreement.

However, the leaders called for resumption of international negotiations to resolve the North Korean impasse. The call was made by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (search), who chaired the annual APEC summit, and he spoke with the other leaders flanking him.

Bush came up empty in getting Asian allies to back U.S. efforts to persuade China to end an exchange-rate policy that U.S. manufacturers and politicians of both parties claim is costing American jobs.

First on Bush's agenda in Singapore Tuesday was a meeting with President S.R. Nathan and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (search). Though Bush and Goh said little of substance afterward, they issued a joint statement that called for tougher steps against terrorism.

"The prime minister is a wise man and understands Southeast Asia very well," Bush said in a picture-taking session. "A lot of our discussion was how we can continue to foster our intent, which is one of peace and freedom as well as prosperity."

The statement welcomed the recent arrest of Riduan Isamuddin Hambali, leader of the al-Qaida linked Southeast Asia terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, and a key figure in last October's hotel bombings in Bali.

The two leaders "recognized that much headway had been made in disrupting terrorist networks but agreed that more needed to be done and that the campaign against terrorism required a sustained long-term effort," it said.

Bush and Goh also discussed Iraq, the statement said, and Bush expressed thanks for Singapore's contributions toward Iraq's reconstruction, including training the Iraqi police to protect critical installations.

Bush's trip was his first to Singapore, and just the second by a U.S. president. Bush's father met Goh here in January 1992.

Singapore has been one of America's staunchest allies in Southeast Asia in the war on terror, arresting more than 30 suspected Islamic militants since 2001 for investigation of plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy and other Western targets here.

"I'm very happy with the government of Singapore's response to terrorism. They are strong and they are resolute," Bush said in an interview last week with Channel News Asia. "They understand the task at hand. And they understand the dangers."

Bush was spending the night in the city-state before heading on Wednesday to Bali, Indonesia, site of nightclub bombings last Oct. 12, which killed 202 people. Indonesia's security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, warned on Monday that "the threat of terrorist attacks is imminent."

A senior administration official said Bush intended with his Indonesia visit to show solidarity with President Megawati Sukarnoputri's vigorous pursuit of those involved in the Bali bombings and other terror activities.

Bush will also salute the emergence of Indonesia's democracy, and suggest that Indonesia's success "is crucial to stability in Southeast Asia," the official told reporters traveling with Bush on Air Force One.

With warships patrolling the seas off Bali and armored vehicles taking up positions near the island's airport, the official said Bush was not concerned about terror threats. "I don't think the president has any worries about his personal safety," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Bush last month signed a free-trade agreement with Singapore — the first such accord between the United States and an Asian country.

Earlier, in Bangkok, Bush also announced his administration was launching free-trade negotiations with Thailand. The United States already has free-trade pacts with Chile, Israel, Jordan, Canada and Mexico.

Bush has said that free trade "is vital to the creation of jobs." But critics say the agreements could cost U.S. jobs by giving companies an incentive to move to cheaper labor markets.

Singapore is America's 12th-largest trading partner with two-way transactions worth about $40 billion annually.

Relations turned chilly in 1994, when Singapore authorities, over objections from then-President Bill Clinton, caned American teenager Michael Fay for spray-painting cars. But they have warmed since.

Goh said before Bush's visit that terrorism in Asia cannot be stopped unless countries prevent extremist Islamic teachers from producing new militants.

Before flying to Singapore, Bush helped close the APEC forum.

The Asia-Pacific leaders' final communique did not specifically mention North Korea's nuclear threat, although U.S. officials said North Korea was alluded to in the call for all countries to "eliminate the severe and growing danger problem posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."