Bush, on His Final Trip Abroad, Goes to Peru for Asia-Pacific Summit
Saturday, November 22, 2008
LIMA, Peru, Nov. 21 -- President Bush arrived in Peru's capital on Friday for his last scheduled overseas trip, taking a final chance to mingle with world leaders as they struggle with a worsening economic crisis and other looming threats.
Attending the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Bush held his first meeting late Friday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, posing for a seven-second handshake before entering into private talks focused on the economy and North Korean nuclear weapons negotiations.
Bush's main goal during his two-night stay in Peru will be to enlist additional support for an economic crisis agreement signed a week ago by the United States, China and 18 other major economies. The pact focuses on keeping trade barriers down and adhering to other free-market principles while implementing reforms to the global financial system.
"As we work to rebuild confidence in our financial systems in the short term, we must also work to promote long-term economic growth," Bush said in his weekly radio address released Friday. "Together, our nations must focus our efforts on three great forces that drive this growth -- free markets, free trade and free people."
The gathering of 21 APEC leaders from both sides of the Pacific marks the 48th foreign trip of Bush's presidency and the last on his itinerary, barring a surprise visit to Iraq or some other hot spot. Although the annual APEC meeting is perhaps best known for a tradition in which leaders dress up in native garb from the host country, most of the roster in Lima this weekend will be occupied by weightier issues related to the economic meltdown.
On Saturday, Bush is slated to give an economic speech and hold one-on-one meetings with the heads of Canada, Japan, South Korea and Russia. The White House also said it hopes to receive commitments for a December meeting in Beijing to restart stalled six-party talks over North Korea's disputed nuclear program.
Bush's meeting with Dmitry Medvedev will be the first time the two have talked in person since the Russian president assumed his office in May. Medvedev has angered the U.S. administration with belligerent acts and remarks, including the August invasion of Georgia and threats of retaliation for a planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
At the same time, Medvedev signaled a week ago that he hoped for good relations with President-elect Barack Obama.
Charles Freeman, an Asia specialist with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Bush should have a relatively easy time persuading the 12 APEC members who were not at the Washington summit to endorse the economic crisis agreement or something similar. But he also said the practical impact of such an endorsement is unclear.
"Anything substantive will probably be hard to find," Freeman said of the meeting.
Bush, once reputed to be a reluctant world traveler, has steadily increased the amount of time he has spent overseas, even as his popularity at home settled into a free fall. By the time he returns from Peru on Sunday, Bush will have spent nearly two full months abroad in 2008 -- more than twice as long as he has in previous years -- including a historic trip to the Summer Olympics in Beijing and a farewell tour of Europe in June.
Administration officials bristle at any suggestion that Bush's recent journeys are part of a going-away tour. "This is a serious meeting; it is not a farewell," said Bush economic adviser Daniel M. Price, referring to APEC.
Bush has shown signs of wistfulness, however. At the start of his meeting with Hu, for example, Bush told the Chinese leader that he "felt a little nostalgic" because it was their last meeting as heads of state, according to White House press secretary Dana Perino.
He also reflected on his tenure in an interview before the trip with Peruvian broadcaster America TV, defending his Latin American policies and saying the United States became more secure during his time in office. He also wished Obama well in the White House.
"I've worked hard on a lot of fronts," Bush said, adding later: "I have given it my all. And now I am very hopeful that the man who succeeds me as president of the United States succeeds in his job."