WASHINGTON – President Bush left Washington Saturday, kicking off a six day, three-nation tour of Asia. This is his first visit to the region since an October economic conference in Shanghai that was cut short because of the war against terrorism.
"This was a trip that was originally scheduled to take place in October last year, just a little over one month after the attack," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday.
"He was going to at that time visit Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing, and had to cancel that portion of it because he did not want to spend that much time out of the country. So this is also a trip that's a reflection of promises made and promises kept. The president did assure our allies that he wanted to visit, and he's keeping his word."
First Lady Laura Bush is traveling with the president. They were to make a stop in Alaska Saturday to refuel and attend a planned welcoming ceremony.
Also on the trip are several cabinet secretaries who join Bush to attend a series of bilateral talks with the leaders of Japan, South Korea and China.
Bush will not visit the reclusive nation of North Korea, though he will be talking about that country, which he believes makes up a third of the "axis of evil" mentioned in his State of the Union address in January. He is concerned that, like Iran and Iraq, North Korea is bent on the exchange of missile technology, something Bush's national security adviser said North Korea pursues aggressively.
"I don't want to get too much into what we are seeing. But let's just say that the North Koreans have been known to go around with glossy brochures about their ballistic missiles. They are stocking a lot of the world right now," said Condoleezza Rice during a briefing to reporters Thursday.
Bush will come close to reaching North Korea when he steps into the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea later in the week. About 38,000 American troops are stationed to help patrol the border. Bush will attend a luncheon with some of the soldiers.
Bush will also meet with South Korean leader Kim Dae Jung, whose peace overtures to the North won him a Nobel prize.
In Japan, Bush plans to discuss global warming with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he arrives Sunday in Tokyo.
On Thursday, the president unveiled his proposal to offer U.S. businesses incentives to reduce greenhouse gases that are suspected of causing global warming. His plan is a counter-proposal to the Kyoto Protocol that the Senate refused to sign in 1999 and which Bush has said is unfair to developed nations.
The Kyoto treaty would have required the United States to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent over the next ten years, and with current technology that would mean cutting industrial production as much.
The President's economic report said, "a realistic policy should involve a gradual, measured response to climate change, not a risky, precipitous one." He has suggested the reduction of other gases, such as sulfur dioxide, by 70 percent, but has not addressed carbon dioxide emissions except to promote planting carbon dioxide-absorbing trees.
The two leaders will also talk about the military action in Afghanistan. Japan has sent ships to perform some non-combat duties, the first such deployment since World War II, and has led efforts to collect reconstruction aid.
During the two days in Tokyo, Bush will press for continued economic reforms started by Koizumi, who is struggling over perceptions that he cannot meet the campaign promises he made to fix Japan's economy, suffering from its third recession in a decade.
In a step to symbolize his personal confidence in Koizumi, Bush will venture to a Tokyo restaurant for a "small, intimate, informal dinner" with the prime minister, Rice said.
Last stop on the President's trip is Beijing, his second visit to China since taking office. He'll arrive 30 years to the day after President Richard Nixon's history-making trip, which started a thaw in U.S.-Chinese relations that is still not complete.
While there, the president will defend his missile-defense plans to the wary Chinese, reassuring China's president Jiang Zemin that China as nothing to fear from U.S. plans for a missile defense system. Chinese officials have warned that Beijing might respond by building more nuclear missiles and trying to make them more sophisticated.
"Our missile defense program is defensive in nature. It is not aimed at anybody," Rice said.
President Bush said China has been helpful in the war against terrorism. However, his aides said privately that Beijing has helped mostly by not causing problems in the United Nations.
At each stop along the way, the president will hold press briefings. He wants the Chinese government to broadcast live an address and brief question-and-answer session with students at Qinghua University next Friday.
In private sessions, Bush will press Jiang and other Chinese leaders to respect human rights and religious freedom.
Fox News' Brian Wilson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.