Singapore's Prime Minister Presses Bush for Greater U.S. Role in Mideast Peace

Singapore's prime minister told President Bush Friday that "it's critical" to both America's global image and the anti-terror fight in Asia that Washington push hard to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"It affects America's standing in Asia and the world, and also the security environment in Asia," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, "because extremists, the jihadists, watch carefully what's happening in the Middle East and take heart, or lose heart, depending on what's happening."

Bush and Lee spoke to reporters at the conclusion of their meeting in the Oval Office.

Wealthy, tightly controlled Singapore is one of Washington's closest friends in Southeast Asia. It has a significant, moderate Muslim minority and is a stalwart supporter of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. Lee often has advised Bush on how to improve America's image in the Muslim world.

In November, Bush spent a day in Singapore on his way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Vietnam. The president he will do so again this year, stopping in Singapore on the way to the APEC meetings being held in Australia in September. This time, the purpose of Bush's visit will be to take part in meetings of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"I talked to Prime Minister Lee about America's desire to stay in close contact with not only Singapore, but our partners" in the region, Bush said. "He's got a very clear vision about the issues, the complications, and the opportunities."

Lee praised "the steadfastness and resolve" with which Bush is tackling the situation in Iraq and the Mideast. But the compliment did not mask the gentle message that he believes more should be done.

"It's critical for us in Southeast Asia that America does that," Lee said.

The economic relationship between the United States and Singapore has seen a jump to $42.5 billion in total two-way trade since a 2004 free trade agreement — a 34 percent increase. Despite Singapore being a small city-state, it was America's ninth largest export market last year.

Lee has called for the United States to also forge stronger economic ties with other Southeast Asian nations.