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World: Terror, Trade To Share Focus At APEC Conference

This weekend, the Chinese city of Shanghai will be the host of the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC. U.S. President George W. Bush will attend the meeting, but his discussions with the 11 other APEC leaders is expected to deal with fighting terrorism as much as improving international trade.

Washington, 17 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush leaves today for Shanghai to attend the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC. The topic this year will be as much terror as trade.

It is Bush's first trip outside America since the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Originally, he had planned to be away for up to 12 days and to include Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo in his itinerary.

But, as he has noted several times, directing his campaign against international terrorism has become the focus of his administration. So he will be returning to Washington after his final meetings in Shanghai on 21 October.

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, says the summit will give the president the opportunity to discuss more than just trade with Asian colleagues. Rice says Bush will speak with the leaders of countries where there may be a presence of the terrorist network Al-Qaeda, which is led by Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is blamed for the attacks on America, which killed more than 5,000 people.

Rice says Bush plans to work with these leaders to develop ways to remove the terrorists from their soil before they have an opportunity to kill even more people.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told a news briefing on 15 October that while in Shanghai, Bush also will be discussing the future of Afghanistan.

Fleischer was asked if there was any concern about Bush's safety while he is in Shanghai, and whether he will be able to direct the war against terrorism while he is away from the White House. The spokesman replied that such concerns are needless.

"The president has absolute confidence in the ability of the Secret Service to protect his safety at all times. As for being out of the country, I just remind you the communications available to the president is second to none. He will be in frequent contact with everybody he needs to be in contact with throughout this issue. I anticipate he'll be having lots of updates and phone calls, and he'll be able to give direction from the road just as he would from the White House."

Despite all the talk of terrorism, experts stress that trade will remain an important topic of the APEC summit. One is Brink Lindsey, the director of the Center for Trade Policy at the Cato Institute, an independent policy center in Washington.

Lindsey says he expects the 12 APEC members will be doing what he called a lot of "last minute deal-making" before the meeting in Qatar next month of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It will be the first WTO meeting since the disastrous gathering in December 1999 in Seattle, which was disrupted not only by violent demonstrations, but also by the group's inability to agree on new rules to lower international trade barriers.

According to Lindsey, another pressing economic topic at the APEC gathering will be China's proposed membership in the WTO. Beijing has long sought entry, but has been stymied by opposition from countries that believe it has a poor human rights record. Lindsey says he expects China will be admitted by the end of the year.

Therefore, Lindsey says, he believes that the APEC meeting will include a balance of discussions about both trade and terrorism. He put it this way: "The Bush administration has already taken to framing economic policy issues in terms of how they relate to the conflict against terrorism, and so I think that tack [direction] will be taken in the APEC arena as well."

Meanwhile, Bush says he plans to link terrorism to another issue: his plan to deploy a missile defense system, which would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty that the U.S and the Soviet Union signed in 1972 in an effort to limit the arms race.

During a news conference at the White House last week (11 October), Bush was asked if he still intends to withdraw from the ABM, even over the objections of Russia, which is providing important cooperation in the war on terrorism. Bush replied that the terrorist attacks on America demonstrate the need for a missile shield. And he said he is eager to discuss the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet in Shanghai.

"I can't wait to visit with my friend Vladimir Putin in Shanghai to reiterate once again that the Cold War is over, it's done with, and that there are new threats that we face, and no better example of that new threat than the attack on America on 11 September. And I'm going to ask my friend to envision a world in which a terrorist thug and/or a host nation might have the ability to develop -- to deliver a weapon of mass destruction via a rocket. And wouldn't it be in our nation's advantage to be able to shoot it down?"

Bush did not directly answer a follow-up question whether Washington is prepared to abandon the treaty unilaterally over Russia's explicit objection. He said only that he believes the ABM treaty is "outdated, antiquated, and useless."

Another point of contention between the U.S. and Russia is Chechnya. Bush recently appeared to soften his stand on Russia's military action in the breakaway republic, saying Russia, like America, has at times been the victim of terrorism. But the State Department insists that the U.S. has not changed its policy on Chechnya.

Bush and Putin may not resolve issues like the ABM and Chechnya during their Shanghai meeting, but they do appear to have developed a rapport. And such good feelings may go a long way to resolving some of their policy differences.