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Bush Stops Off in Bali for Talks After Asia Summit

His aim is to discuss the war on terrorism with Indonesia's president and Muslim leaders.

October 22, 2003|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

BALI, Indonesia — President Bush flew to the front lines of the war on terrorism today for a brief high-security visit designed to confront the threat of Islamic extremism and show support for Indonesia's efforts to combat terrorism.

More than 200 people were killed in Bali last October when Islamic militants bombed two nightclubs, and Bush has described Southeast Asia as the "second front" in his war on terrorism, behind Iraq.

Warships patrolled offshore and frogmen floated in inflatable boats just beyond the surf as Air Force One landed at Bali's international airport.

Bush's motorcade went just to the edge of the airport grounds, where he met with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri at a resort hotel. Bush has praised Megawati for cracking down on terrorist networks, particularly Jemaah Islamiah, which is blamed for the Bali blasts. Indonesia has convicted about 30 people in connection with the bombings and arrested about 100 alleged Jemaah Islamiah members.

During his less-than-four-hour visit, the president planned to meet with Muslim leaders to try to combat a perception common in the Muslim world that his anti-terrorism effort is in effect a war on Islam.

"The president is looking forward to a frank discussion," a senior Bush administration official said. "I think that he has seen some mischaracterizations of his policies on Iraq and on the Middle East coming out of Indonesia. He wants to correct those misunderstandings."

The leaders are considered moderates in a country that is 87% Muslim. However, several have been critical of Bush's policies in Iraq and the Middle East.

Indonesia, home to 210 million people, is the world's most-populous Muslim nation.

Security was extremely tight for the visit, and Bush was not scheduled to leave the grounds of the airport and hotel. But the administration official said the president was confident that the Indonesians had taken all necessary precautions.

Bush's trip to Bali comes after a stop in Singapore, where he dined with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

After Bush's departure, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Singapore would send ships and planes to Iraq, its first contribution of military hardware to the U.S.-led coalition there, wire services reported. No numbers were given.

The Singapore stop came after the conclusion Tuesday of the annual summit of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, held in Bangkok, Thailand. Leaders ended the meeting with a commitment to combat terrorism and enhance security in the region.

"We agreed that transnational terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction pose direct and profound challenges to APEC's vision of free, open and prosperous economies," the leaders said in a statement. "We agreed to dedicate APEC not only to advancing the prosperity of our economies, but also to the complementary mission of ensuring the security of our people."

The U.S. delegation had worked hard to move security issues to the top of the APEC agenda.

The U.S. won a pledge from APEC to devise ways to halt the spread of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, which threaten to disrupt commercial traffic.

In an indication of the level of U.S. concern, the White House decided that only planes equipped with antimissile capability could make the flight into Bali. A plane chartered by the White House press corps was not permitted to make the trip; instead, officials allowed a small group of reporters to fly to Bali on a presidential support plane.

In other developments, APEC members did not officially endorse a U.S. proposal that North Korea be offered a multi-nation security agreement if it abandons nuclear weapons.

However, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the summit chairman, gave an oral report from the leaders that supported the U.S. approach.

APEC members did endorse a plan proposed last month during trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, that provided a blueprint for negotiating a global agreement in agriculture, investment and other contentious areas. Largely due to a rift between rich and poor countries, that plan failed to win World Trade Organization approval. The APEC leaders, some of whom opposed the proposal last month, pledged support for the global trade talks and agreed to "re-energize" the stalled negotiations, expected to resume in Geneva by year's end.

And in response to this year's outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, primarily in Asia, APEC members launched a "health security initiative" designed to counter such health threats. It includes improved disease monitoring, increased security for pathogens and equipment used in research, and establishing a joint U.S.-Singapore Regional Disease Intervention Center to prevent and respond to disease outbreaks.

After his visit to Bali, Bush plans to fly to Australia, the final stop on his six-nation, seven-day regional tour.

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