KILLEEN, Texas – President Bush (search), meeting with Asian-Pacific leaders, is seeking more international backing to both persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions and to take concrete steps to cripple terrorist networks around the world.
In short, the agenda Bush takes to this weekend's annual 21-nation summit of Pacific Rim leaders looks much like it did last year — and the year before that.
"The big priorities will focus on the security and economic side because they really go hand in hand," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search). "You need to make sure you have security so that you can move forward on the economic side."
After a night at his central Texas ranch, Bush arrives late Friday in Santiago, Chile, this year's host of the two day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum starting Saturday.
Iraq, once a dominant topic, has largely fallen off the Bush administration agenda.
But North Korea, an "axis of evil" brother of the former Iraqi regime, is high on the priority list. Of the seven foreign countries whose leaders Bush plans to meet with in private one-on-one sessions, four of them — China, Japan, South Korea and Russia — are U.S. partners in talks with North Korea aimed at making the Korean peninsula nuclear-free.
Three rounds of talks in Beijing have yielded little progress and Pyongyang refused to attend a fourth round slated for September. The White House hopes to use to the APEC gathering to map strategy to put another meeting on the calendar for early 2005, a senior White House official said.
Bush will lean especially on Chinese President Hu Jintao to persuade the fellow communist nation to return to the table, said another official.
Each year, the White House chooses allies on whom to lavish the most attention by scheduling separate meetings with the president. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, whose predecessor, Jean Chretien, was openly snubbed last time for his lack of support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, gets such a plum, as does Russian President Vladimir Putin, viewed warmly by the White House as a solid war-on-terror ally.
In other meetings with leaders of Indonesia, Mexico and even China, Bush could confront priorities conflicting with his own.
Indonesia, for example, is one of the countries pushing to return APEC to its traditional focus on trade, giving security a back seat. Newly elected Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also plans to ask Bush to restore military ties, severed in 1999 over human rights concerns.
And Mexican President Vicente Fox will want to turn the conversation to reforming U.S. immigration laws. Bush proposed giving work visas to undocumented workers, but he has done little to get Congress to go along, and his top goal in U.S.-Mexican relations after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks remains enhanced border security.
Hu, meanwhile, comes to Santiago focused on establishing his country as a Pacific Rim economic and political powerhouse to rival the United States. Bush and Hu will meet just weeks after a top Chinese official accused the U.S. president of trying to "rule over the whole world" and destroying global anti-terror efforts with the Iraq war.
Nevertheless, Bush will press China anew to end an exchange-rate policy that U.S. manufacturers claim is costing American jobs and giving China an unfair trade advantage, aides said. Last year, Bush came up mostly empty on that front, but China recently raised hopes by increasing two key interest rates.
In the war on terror, Bush hopes to build on last year's pledges from regional leaders to intensify their crackdown on terror groups and curb the spread of unconventional weapons.
Freer trade will be a key focus of Bush's meetings, as well.
He will use an official state visit with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos after the summit's close Sunday and a brief stopover in Colombia en route home to the United States on Monday to press his top policy goal for Latin America: a firm 2005 deadline to complete negotiations on a Western Hemisphere free trade agreement.
Brazil and Venezuela have led the resistance to such a pact, but Bush could find willing boosters in both the Chilean and Colombian leaders. The United States and Chile signed a bilateral free-trade pact last year. And Colombia is a major recipient of U.S. aid, which funds President Alvaro Uribe's war on leftist rebels and anti-drug efforts. Senior administration officials hinted before Bush's trip of a possible increase in those funds.
Mostly, though, Latin America is on the back burner despite playing host to the meeting. Colombia is the only additional stop Bush is making in conjunction with the APEC summit; last year, when the meeting was in Thailand, Bush traveled widely through Asia.
With the U.S. reputation in Latin America damaged by the Iraq war and a perception of neglect, Bush was expected to arrive to thousands of anti-Bush and anti-globalization protesters in the streets of Santiago.