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Bush Travels to South Korea, Thailand, and China

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Bush Travels to South Korea, Thailand, and China

Trip will include consultations on the Six-Party Talks

Washington -- President Bush’s seven-day visit to three East Asian nations will blend ceremony with diplomacy, and likely will be his last official trip to the region before he leaves office next January.

"This will be the president's ninth visit to Asia during his presidency, and reflects the importance of this most dynamic economic region of the world to the United States," said Dennis Wilder, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council. The trip, from August 4 to August 11, takes the president first to South Korea, then to Thailand and ends in China.

At the center of talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will be North Korea and efforts to eliminate nuclear programs from the Korean Peninsula. As part of the Six-Party Talks, which aim to convince North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons development program, Bush will discuss efforts to convince North Korea to agree to a verification protocol that includes the plutonium program, the highly enriched uranium program and nonproliferation efforts, Wilder said.

"All the members of the Six-Party [Talks] are in these discussions, and we are looking for the North to come back to us and agree to the kind of protocol that all of the rest of the six-party participants believe is necessary," he said. The Six-Party Talks to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program involve China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

One major aspect of the talks is removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in return for full disclosure and North Korea’s agreement to a verification protocol. "We have a little more than 10 days left before the first opportunity for the president to open that window and de-list the North. We hope to hear from the North in this period," Wilder said.

While in Seoul, South Korea, Bush also will discuss the transformation of the American military presence in South Korea, Wilder said. The two presidents are expected to discuss ways to implement a global strategic security partnership for the 21st century, he added.

On economic issues, Bush and Lee will discuss efforts to win legislative approval for the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that could add between $10 billion and $12 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product annually, Wilder said.

Wilder said Bush also will thank Lee for his strong support for reopening the Korean market to U.S. beef imports. Following a scare over mad cow disease in 2003, U.S. beef imports to South Korea were halted. Earlier this year, when Lee visited Bush at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, Lee announced he was reopening the South Korean market to U.S. beef. Korea now allows U.S. beef from cows that are 30 months or younger to enter the country.

Bush told a group of reporters from Asia at a White House interview July 30 that South Korea and Japan will have to resolve their differences over a set of contested islets in the Sea of Japan between the two countries. "First of all, this dispute will be settled by Japan and South Korea. As to the [U.S. geographic] database, I asked [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice to review it and the database will be restored to where it was prior [to] seven days ago," Bush said.

A recent change in the status of the islets by the U.S. Agency for Geographic Names to "undesignated" is being changed back to "South Korea" for the islets, Bush said.


In Thailand, Bush will meet with Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, in his second visit to the nation, to commemorate the 175th anniversary of U.S.-Thai relations. "In other words, we established relations with Thailand, the first relationship we had in East Asia, under the presidency of Andrew Jackson in 1833," Wilder said.

Thailand is a major non-NATO security ally of the United States in a critical and highly valued partnership, he said. While in Thailand, Bush will deliver remarks on U.S. foreign policy in East Asia, and cite what has been accomplished on security and economic issues during his presidency and where that relationship is likely to go with the next administration, Wilder said. The speech will include a wider reference to democracy and freedom throughout the region.

Bush will also meet with several Burmese dissidents while in Thailand. "I will be speaking to activists to let them know that the United States of America hears their voices," he said.


Finally, Bush will arrive in Beijing August 7 for the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and to support the U.S. Olympic Team. The president and Mrs. Bush and family members, including his father who was an ambassador to China before he was president, will stay through August 11, Wilder said.

Bush said in an interview with Suthichai Sae-Yoon of the Nation Multimedia Group of Thailand that he does not want his visit to Beijing to become politicized. "It is a sporting event of the greatest caliber. I'm going out of respect for the people of China," he said.

And the president said he does expect to have "frank and candid discussions" with the Chinese government on a wide range of issues. "When you show respect to a group of people, it gives you credibility when it comes time to discuss difficult issues," Bush said.

While in Beijing, Bush also will preside over the opening of the new U.S. Embassy complex.

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