Asian leaders fail to back Bush’s strategy to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,,1952179,00.html

Asian leaders fail to back Bush's strategy to curb North Korea's nuclear 

· President loses battle for united anti-nuclear stance
· Trip to Indonesia curtailed over security concerns
Suzanne Goldenberg in Hanoi
Monday November 20, 2006

President George Bush suffered his most visible diplomatic setback since his 
party's defeat in mid-term elections yesterday when Asian leaders failed to back
Washington's call for robust action against North Korea.

Mr Bush, in Vietnam on his first foreign trip since the elections, had lobbied 
strenuously for a unified strategy aimed at getting Pyongyang to abandon its 
nuclear ambitions, meeting the Russian, Chinese, South Korean and Japanese 
leaders on the sidelines of the summit.

The rebuff - the second for Mr Bush this weekend on North Korea - underlined the
president's diminished powers in the wake of his election defeat. So too did the
muted response to Mr Bush's presence in Hanoi, a shadow of the tumultuous 
reception for President Clinton, when he visited Vietnam six years ago.

But that is far better than the hostile reception that awaits Mr Bush today when
he flies in to Indonesia, where thousands of protesters were on the streets 
yesterday accusing the US of war crimes. Mr Bush is to spend just six hours in 
Indonesia after the secret service decided that it would be too dangerous for 
him to remain in the country overnight. Intelligence officials say there have 
been warnings of a militant attack during Mr Bush's visit.

In his conversations with some of the 21 world leaders in Hanoi, including 
Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Hu Jintao, Mr Bush was asked repeatedly 
about the election outcome, the national security adviser, Steven Hadley, told 
reporters. But he said that Mr Bush had assured leaders that there would be no 
change in US foreign policy.

On Saturday, Mr Bush had failed to persuade South Korea's president, Roh 
Mao-hyum, to intercept North Korean ships suspected of carrying nuclear material
and yesterday summit leaders refused to commit themselves to a written 
condemnation of North Korea for carrying out a nuclear test last month, deciding
to issue an oral statement during a closed-door meeting.

The statement expresses "strong concern" about Pyongyang's nuclear test last 
month and its missile launches last July, and calls for full implementation of 
sanctions against the North Korean regime. It became public when Vietnam's 
president, Nguyen Minh Triet, was asked about the statement at a press 

White House officials denied any setback to Mr Bush's strategy in preparation 
for the resumption of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme next 
month. "What was important was that the members of Apec came together on a 
common statement," said David McCormick, a National Security Council official.

Mr Bush began his day yesterday by attending services at a Catholic church in 
Hanoi. He visits Ho Chi Minh City today before leaving for Indonesia. But the 
president's three days in Hanoi were remarkable for the lack of contact with 
ordinary Vietnamese.

Mr Bush was the second serving US president after Bill Clinton to visit Vietnam 
since the war and he was visibly moved at times by the echoes from the past. But
it was hardly a model of public diplomacy.

Unlike Mr Clinton, who ate lunch in a noodle shop and waded into a rice paddy to
look for the remains of a US pilot missing since the war, Mr Bush has largely 
viewed Vietnam through the windows of an armoured stretch Cadillac limousine, 
flown in from Washington.

Relatively few Vietnamese have turned out to see him as the president speeds 
through the streets of Hanoi.

Howdy to Ao Dai

The colourful, elongated tunics of Vietnam's traditional dress, the Ao Dai, are 
worn with much grace by Vietnamese women and men - and extreme unease by the US 
president George Bush. Donning the costume over his suit for the obligatory 
"family photograph" alongside 20 other leaders of Asian and Pacific nations, Mr 
Bush grimaced repeatedly and shifted from foot to foot, a portrait of 
embarrassment in turquoise blue brocade with yellow trim. It was obvious he 
couldn't wait to get it off and sure enough, moments after the official 
photographs were taken, he strode away, ripped it off and folded it up, 
according to reports. His fellow leaders showed more restraint and waited until 
they were out of sight.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

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